For two million people living in the UK, the season of scarfs and hot chocolate is not as cosy as it sounds. These people often suffer from Seasonal Depression (SAD), but what is it and how does it affect students at Lancaster University?
What Is Seasonal Depression?
According to the NHS, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is ‘a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern’. Anyone can experience SAD, although it is 4x more likely to occur in women.
Location, age, and family history also factor into the likelihood of this disorder. A recent pilot study has suggested that vegetarianism may also influence SAD.
It’s possible to experience SAD during any season, although it’s most often referred to as ‘winter depression’ when the symptoms are most commonly felt due to different reasons from a change in the body clock to production of melatonin.
How It’s Affecting Lancaster Students
I interviewed several Lancaster University students who suffer from SAD. They wish to remain anonymous. There are trigger warnings for self-harm, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
A common occurrence in those with SAD is exhaustion. A psychology student said that seasonal depression makes it “impossible to fall asleep before even 5am, obliterating any chance of making it to my earlier classes.” Another student confessed that “the exhaustion makes it so hard to find joy in anything.”
SAD makes it hard for these students to look after themselves with one interviewee saying, “Things I know I’m supposed to do for my health and wellbeing just becomes a chore.”
Three other students explained how SAD massively affecting their eating habits: “I didn’t eat for three days because it hurt to think about the activity of eating or trying to achieve it.”
Substance abuse is another unhealthy mechanism that a male student disclosed turning to. “I use weed a lot more in the winter and since being at uni I haven’t spent a single night sober […] I don’t find joy in anything when I’m sober.”
“I go on autopilot mode just to get through my day so I can finish assignments and attend classes,” a second-year student stated, “But when I come off autopilot, I often feel so low that I turn to minor forms of self-harm and suicidal idealisation.”
Support (Or Lack Thereof) Given By The University Mental Health Support Team
What is the University Mental Health support system doing to help students suffering from SAD and other mental illnesses?
After nearly getting expelled due to mental-health-related drinking, a student was “threatened with expulsion unless [he] went to counselling,” a third year student confessed.
Another student emailed Nightline at the start of the year and has yet to receive a response.
Two female students were given insufficient support when telling the university that they didn’t have immediate plans to take their own lives. This happened at the start of term one in 2021. Both had to send multiple follow up emails and received only a few counselling sessions at the end of last term.
One of these students claimed “they pretty much said that I was too much to deal with […] I had two counselling appointments overall.”
Small Ways To Potentially Help
It’s not your job, and quite frankly it’s impossible, to try and ‘fix’ someone you love who is depressed. However you can take comfort in the knowledge that letting them know that you’re there for them and they are loved can soothe their pain.
Lend a listening ear, offer to make them a cup of tea, and don’t make them feel guilty if they leave some washing up.
Not being judgemental towards those who are already judging themselves is important: “It’s my mental health and I’m not stupid or lazy. I’m trying as hard as I can.”
Not degrading their suffering is important, too: “Depression does no equal sadness […] I wish there wasn’t a glamorisation of depression.”
Some ways to ease the effects of seasonal depression are investing in a UV lamp, taking vitamin D tablets, and exercising regularly. Curving sugar cravings and eating fruit and veg has also been proven to help.
The students I interviewed suggested trying to keep to a regular schedule, making time for hobbies and friends, and watching comfort shows.
“Scheduling things with people really helps,” said a second year student, “it gives you something to look forward to and get excited about […] finding a good balance between socialising and alone time is also really vial though.”
If you are struggling and need some support, you could contact:
- Samaritans 0330 094 5717
- Mind 0300 123 3393
- CALM 0800 58 58 58
- Text SHOUT to 85258