Seasonal Depression: Matter of Fact or Myth?

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Even though the groundhog did not see his shadow this February, signaling an early start to spring, winter in Williamstown is still in full swing. Icy mornings, shorter days, and snowy nights have some feeling the emotional effects of the weather.

 

Starting in early January, some students claim that the onset of winter brings about what many call seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression or sadness related to changes in the seasons. While this disorder has been recognized by psychologists, sentiments surrounding it differ among students. Interviews with students in the Williams community about the causes and severity of seasonal depression produced a mixed bag of results. Some considered it an extremely serious and prevalent issue on campus, while others labeled it a “cop out” for larger issues.

 

Alicia Blanco, Neema Zarrabian, and another student who requested to remain anonymous are all sophomores at Williams who agreed to share their thoughts on season depression.

 

When asked what came to mind when the term “seasonal depression” is used, anonymous sophomore (AS) said,

 

“I think of people who, when it's cold outside, complain that they have seasonal depression because they don't like the weather.”

 

Zarrabian agreed, taking a slightly harsher stance and saying “Claiming that you have seasonal depression is a cop out. You’re blaming the weather for being sad; get in control of your life.”

 

Blanco took a very different stance and reminisced on her freshman spring. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Blanco recalled the shock of her first winter. She responded by saying,

 

“When I think of seasonal depression, I think of my freshman spring. I associate it with being in bed all day after class and not doing much to reach out to people.”

 

From her experience with seasonal depression herself during her freshman spring, Blanco is more sympathetic to those who attribute their sadness to the weather.

 

After describing their initial reactions to seasonal depression, the three sophomores shared their thoughts about its causes. Blanco described the cyclical nature of the disorder, saying,

 

“I think it’s caused by a cycle. It’s very cold, so you refrain from going outside. That makes you miss out dinners, events with friends, performances, etc. Eventually, you get used to going right from class to your dorm. You conform to this cycle, and it’s very hard to get out. For example, you keep food in your dorm and go to extreme lengths to make sure you have no reason to leave your room.”

 

Zarrabian also mentioned the cycle that seasonal depression can create, but went on to say,

 

“Once you attribute your sadness to the cold, you can’t get out of that loop. Then, next winter, you’re reminded of the same thing.”

 

Zarrabian refuses to believe that the cold alone is enough to account for seasonal depression.

 

“If you think the reason you’re sad is solely the weather, then do something about it. Don't sit there and wallow in sorrow,” he said. “You can't say I get sad because ‘blank.’ You can't attribute your sadness to one thing.”

 

So, is seasonal depression a real problem? Or simply an excuse for sadness during the winter months? Once again, our sophomores produced a variety of responses. AS said,

 

“I think it’s just like a popular phrase that people use. People use it as a reason to be dramatic about how they feel. You might still feel sad in the spring.” Zarrabian agreed, claiming, “Sometimes I don’t like that it’s cold. Sometimes I don’t make an effort to hang out with my friends. But I don’t attribute that to the weather. I attribute that to my lack of making an effort.”

 

Both AS and Zarrabian agree that while the weather can contribute to sadness, seasonal depression is used much too freely and loosely. After commenting on the overuse of the phrase, AS elaborated, saying

 

“It’s like saying you’re an alcoholic when you go out and drink; you might be feeling down, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have seasonal depression.”

 

Blanco took a very different stance, saying “I think it’s a very serious a problem that should be addressed. For example, College Council can provide a list of activities for the winter months, discuss how to avoid falling into the cycle of not leaving your room, and/or create a network of people who are going through the same thing.”

 

Despite differences in opinion, all three sophomores claimed that seasonal depression, or at least the use of the term, is extremely prevalent on campus. AS noted that she has heard members of her immediate friend group claim they have seasonal depression quite frequently. Blanco noticed a trend between being from a warm place and being affected by the cold, claiming

 

“I do see that for people like me, who come from a warm place, there is a trend for associating winter with unhappiness and a reluctance to walk small distances.” Zarrabian expanded on this, saying “I think it’s rampant on campus.” All three seemed to agree that a high percentage of students at Williams suffer, or claim to suffer, from seasonal depression.

 

After commenting on its prevalence, students went on to discuss how harmful they consider seasonal depression, or its overuse, to be. Blanco adamantly asserted,

 

“I think this is a problem that could potentially cause harm. For someone who carries a lot of weight or past traumas, this can make them resurface. People with a history of self harm can relapse; it’s hard to reach out to people because everyone is following healthier routines. People are not always available to come to your room or common room.”

 

Zarrabian equated the prevalence of the issue with its severity, saying “The fact that I’ve heard multiple people complain about it means that it’s serious, especially because winter is so long here.” AS took a different approach to this question, expressing concerns about the effects of the term’s overuse on people who truly suffer from depression.

 

“It’s not a big deal if you say it in your friend group, because your friends know you’re just using the term loosely. However, if you’re around people who have clinical depression or are struggling with any form of depression, its misuse can be harmful.”

 

Interviews with these sophomores have shown that students on campus have very different views on seasonal depression; however, it has also proven that there is a widespread awareness of this issue. Even students who questioned the legitimacy of the term agreed that it is a prevalent issue in the Williams community. This demonstrates a need for more conversations surrounding seasonal depression, both to assist those suffering from it and to prevent its overuse.

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