Just Winter Wallowing – Or More? The Scoop on Seasonal Affective Disorder

Think back to some of your happiest memories: Maybe they include a trip to the beach with your best friends, spring break in Miami, or playing outside under the sun as a little kid. What's noticeably absent from this list? Wading knee-deep through snow or getting caught in the pouring rain without an umbrella. Obviously, dealing with dreary weather isn't fun – but for collegiettes who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), the issue is more severe than you might think.
Her Campus talked to Dr. David M. Reiss, a clinical psychiatrist practicing for more than twenty-five years and the Interim Medical Director at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, MA to learn about the disorder and discover how you can stay as positive as possible even as the temperatures drop.

Is seasonal affective disorder real?

Seasonal affective disorder is more than just feeling like you'd rather stay inside than head out when it's raining!
According to Reiss, the symptoms of S.A.D. can extend to any of the symptoms stemming from depression or anxiety: sadness, moodiness, lack of energy, insomnia or hypersomnia, change in appetite, social withdrawal, loss of libido, and in severe cases, even suicidal ideation. Reiss explains, “In my personal clinical practice, I have seen many people who have more mood fluctuations in the winter, but I cannot say I recall a single patient who had no affective symptoms at other times.” In other words, S.A.D. isn't just a burden you might carry through the winter; rather, you have tendencies towards the disorder year-round that are amplified by gloomy weather.
Reiss explains that while genetics and biochemistry are usually at play in someone with S.A.D., the disorder is worsened by psychological and situational factors. For example, warm weather means more opportunities for exposure to sunlight, exercise, vacation, relaxation, and recreation – all of which make us feel better. In the winter, all of those positive forces pretty much tend to disappear, unless you live in a perennially warm climate or are lucky enough fly south for a few days during winter break.
Like seasonal affective disorder, depression can't necessarily be pinned to one specific cause across all cases. Doctors are split over whether seasonal affective disorder is a “stand-alone” disorder or an offshoot of depression. Although the majority currently believes it is a separate issue, Reiss stresses the importance of treatment, calling the debate “more an issue of semantics than substance.”