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Understanding Your Friend With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.” So to break it down, when the days start getting shorter, and the amount of daily light the earth recieves from the sun starts to decrease, it affects a person’s overall mood. 

Because fall has now officially started, you may start to see a decrease in the energy from some of your friends during the next couple of weeks. They may want to go out less, coop themselves up in their room more, and overall just be a bit off from their regular selves. Although this may annoy you slightly, try not to chalk up as just plain moodiness if it is happening for an extended period of time. I know a lot of the times these behaviors can be due to stress, lack of sleep or just straight up PMS-ing, but it’s important to track these behaviors in your friends and see if they continue for more than a week or two. If they do, and you’re close enough with your friend, definitely ask a few questions to see what’s up. If they’re uncomfortable with the word “depression” due to the stigma that surrounds it, don’t be afraid to gently suggest that they may want to see a therapist to talk through their feelings and that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about! According to a 2015 article published by the Huffington Post, 350,000,000 people globally are affected by some sort of depression, including SAD, so it’s a lot more common than you would think.

I understand how these behaviors can be seen as irritating or inconvenient, but please remember to be patient. Try to help your friend out by recommending a “Happy Light”; a light specifically designed to help relieve the symptoms of SAD by giving you those precious sun rays you’ve been missing out on without harming your skin (you can find them various places online; I found mine at Bed, Bath, and Beyond). You can also try to give your friends some surprise pick-me-up’s like their favorite candy or some ice cream every once in a while. Although these acts are small, they will show your friend that you’re there to help, and you may even brighten their day.

One of the worst things you can do to a person with any type of depression is to isolate them or cut ties with them. I know their changing, somber mood is not always fun to be around, but remember that it’s not fun for them either. They may start to push away or try to isolate themselves a bit, but don’t give up on them. If they don’t want to go out, don’t stop inviting them. If they want to be by themselves, let them, but send them a few texts checking in on them. Even if they don’t show it they are struggling and need a support system, just like how someone who breaks their arm or gets the flu needs their friends by their side. 

It is no easy feat trying to help a friend with any type of depression, but the more you know, the better you can provide more positive reinforcements for your friends dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder. You may not understand it, but at least try. Your friends will definitely appreciate your effort!

When I'm not writing for University of Iowa's Her Campus, you can find me eating Reese's while watching the Mindy Project and trying my hardest to become Tina Fey.
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