Depression: Coping with the seasons

Darren D'Altorio

Feeling blue at specific points in the year may indicate seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as S.A.D.

The leaves are changing colors, shifting from deep green to various shades of yellow, orange and brown. Before long, the trees will be naked sticks poking into the air, clattering, not rustling, in the breeze.

Warm to Cold

David Schubert, senior business management major, keeps his bedroom as close to a tropical paradise as possible. Soft blue lights line the perimeter of his ceiling, casting a cool glow into the space. Pictures of waves and sandy shorelines adorn the walls, and a space heater is always handy.

Schubert was born in Ohio but moved to San Diego, Calif. when he was two months old. He spent the first 18 years of his life in San Diego enjoying endless summer weather.

When he was 18 years old, he moved back to Lagrange, Ohio. It was November when he moved, “when things started getting cold.” The transition from San Diego to Lagrange was a rude wake-up call.

“I came out here, and I felt like it was dark every single day,” Schubert said. “I felt like there was something missing. And no matter what, I just couldn’t get happy.”

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder*

Fall and winter SAD (winter depression)

Symptoms of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder include:

&bull Depression

&bull Hopelessness

&bull Anxiety

&bull Loss of energy

&bull Social withdrawal

&bull Oversleeping

&bull Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

&bull Appetite changes, especially for foods high in carbohydrates

Spring and summer SAD (summer depression)

Symptoms of summer-onset seasonal affective disorder include:

&bull Anxiety

&bull Insomnia

&bull Irritability

&bull Agitation

&bull Weight loss

&bull Poor appetite

&bull Increased sex drive

He went to the doctor for depression shortly after he moved. The result of the visit was a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. He took the pills for about two weeks, and then he stopped. He said he didn’t think pills were the answer to his problem, so he tried to find other ways to cope.

He began to use drugs as a way of dealing with the depression.

“It was accessible, and it was easy,” Schubert said of his self-medication.

Looking back, he said it was the wrong way to deal with it, but he didn’t have the experience to know any better.

Schubert has lived in Ohio for almost six years and he said he is finally starting to feel like he is getting better at dealing with the depressive symptoms he feels during the winter months.

“Every single winter, there’s about a week or two that I feel deathly sick,” Schubert said. “Sometimes I feel like I won’t make it through this.”

When those feelings settle in, Schubert makes a conscious effort to keep his life on schedule and stay motivated through the cold depths of winter.

Going to the Student Recreation and Wellness Center to exercise, swim and sit in the hot tub are therapeutic things Schubert does to deal with his winter mood. Reading about astronomy is another way he allows his mind to escape.

“Find your escape, do something that takes you away mentally,” Schubert advised. “Hang up pictures of somewhere beautiful. Find hobbies. Just do whatever you like to do.”

S.A.D. ness

What Schubert experienced when he moved back to Ohio could be classified as seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as SAD.

SAD is a mental condition that comes with the changing of seasons. According to an article on, the American Family Physician Web site, people with SAD have episodes of major depression that tend to recur during specific times of the year, usually in winter.

Taryn Myers, assistant director of the psychological clinic at Kent State, said SAD is a condition where depressive moods are linked directly to the weather, usually following a pattern of feeling ‘down’ in the winter and all right in the summer, although, people can still experience feelings of depression in the summertime.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition has specific criteria for diagnosing SAD. Those criteria include recurring depression at a specific time of the year, full remissions at other times of the year, at least two major depressive episodes in the past two years and seasonal episodes substantially outnumbering non-seasonal episodes throughout an individual’s lifetime.

Myers said these criteria help doctors differentiate between true SAD and depression caused by other external variables and stress triggers, such as slipping grades in school, the death of a loved one or the ending of an important relationship in one’s life.

If someone is feeling depressed and having a hard time going about his or her daily routine, Myers said that individual should seek counseling.

Counseling sessions for people with SAD focus on self-empowerment and motivation.

“We put the power in their hands and give them the tools they need to deal with it,” Myers said. “There is this idea of ‘fake it ’til you make it,’ where if you go out and you try to do things you, it will make you feel better. So that can actually help with the depression.”

Myers said it’s all about giving yourself a positive message.

If mind over matter doesn’t work, Myers said ‘light box’ therapy is an effective treatment for SAD.

According to, light box therapy is when you sit in front of a special box of fluorescent light with your eyes opened. The light is specially designed to mimic natural sunlight. People with SAD use this treatment to trigger biochemical changes in the brain, naturally alleviating symptoms of SAD.

Myers said tanning booths are another way people cope with SAD. But she warned that proper skin care precautions should be taken if this method is used.

Schubert stays positive through winter by focusing on the return of spring and the warm sunshine coming back into his life.

“That first nice day after a long winter, I appreciate that day 10 times more than I’ve ever appreciated a warm day in California,” Schubert said. “I like the seasons because I appreciate summer and nice days now more than I used to.”

Contact features reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].