Sad or S.A.D? Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

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There’s something about late August; music festival season, euro-trips and rompers have all come and gone, and you’re left irritable, bored, and waiting for school to inevitably begin. I often find myself a bit anxious but excited, not just for OAP, but also to get a little routine back into my life. There’s a sense of energy on campus; while many hide behind the, “UGH, I don’t want school to start” façade, I can see right through it. I know that maybe-not-so-deep down, you’re excited to get back into the swing of things, too.

There’s something about early September; the engineering students of McGill know how to get the year going with live music and outdoor booze, the sun is shining, and there’s a collective sense of relief on campus as everything appears to be exactly as it should be. Mid-to-late September is charming, as we struggle to hold onto the last remnants of summer and bid goodbye to our final ounces of sanity until December break. We refuse to crack open a book until absolutely necessary, bracing for the intensity of what is to come.

Mid-term season always seems to sneak up on us. It was all fun and games –frolicking around OAP, catching up on everyone’s summers, adding and dropping courses. Then all of a sudden, BOOM! You’re buried in the work that you’ve neglected for the past five weeks. And that’s the thing about mid-October; when the novelty of pumpkin spice lattes (yes, we were all thinking it) and turtlenecks  subsides and your fifth ‘Friends-Giving’ dinner has passed, a cloud of fog emerges from the sky, and encircles us as we start to say “ugh” 50% more than we did last season.

While it’s easy to neglect one’s mental health and attribute it to the drop in temperature and lack of sunlight, in many cases it’s more than that.

We often attribute our melancholy moods and poor physical health to the weather, harnessing this excuse in order to justify our increasing laziness and lack of motivation. While it’s easy to neglect one’s mental health and attribute it to the drop in temperature and lack of sunlight, in many cases it’s more than that. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression and mood disorder, often beginning in the fall and continuing into the winter. It drains one’s energy and increases moodiness, and, if brushed to the side, can lead to progressively worsening feelings of deep sadness.

It’s not surprising that our moods and the collective mood on campus changes with the workload and with the weather, but as Montrealers and McGill students (McGillionairs*), we must pace ourselves. It’s easy to forget how much worse the weather can and will get. Yes, fall is fun when it’s a steady 15 degrees and it smells like leaves and apple pie outside, and the first snowfall is (kind of) exciting for, like, a hot second. The changing of the seasons is fun on paper, but the undeniable sinking of collective energy change on campus is tangible, affecting all of us physically with aches and colds, and mentally in more discreet ways.

The basic stress of school-work, the added pressure of the McGill environment for academic excellence and, for many students, living away from one’s family and home gives us a harsh reality check to accompany this change of energy on campus. While most McGill students are legally adults, I personally still expect a certain level of care from the institution where I have spent the past three years. While there has been a sharp increase in demand for mental-health services across Canadian universities, the results have thus far been underwhelming. In an interview with the Montreal Gazette from 2017, Patrick Smith, national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association stated that “demand for services far outstrips the availability of services” and attributes this to “chronic underfunding”. Despite this valid reasoning, the never-ending waiting game for better care can have a detrimental impact on the more vulnerable members of our student community.

While there is arguably something comforting about the collective melancholy on campus, affirming that each of us is not alone in our feelings, the fact that so many of us feel so consistently down may create the illusion that our symptoms aren’t to be taken seriously as a mental health concern. There’s a distinct difference between having a lazy day in bed to avoid  the doom and gloom, and feeling sluggish, anxious and disengaged on a daily basis. The former is the perpetual student fatigue with which we are are familiar; the latter could be Seasonal Affective Disorder, which some of us might be ignoring. Recognizing this difference in oneself and one’s friends is the first step to taking our campus back from the long Montreal winter.

While there is arguably something comforting about the collective melancholy on campus, affirming that each of us is not alone in our feelings, the fact that so many of us feel so consistently down may create the illusion that our symptoms aren’t to be taken seriously as a mental health concern.

Despite the fact that this seemingly shared energy (or lack thereof) may be the only thing that the McGill community agrees on, we, as a united student body, must not succumb to it. We must take the necessary action to care for of ourselves and one another, constantly fighting for better mental health resources on campus and practicing strong regimens of self-care. As one McGill, we must come to the conclusion that just because half of our year is plagued with coldness does not mean that it also has to be plagued with sadness.

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