'Tis the season: How to be aware of SAD this year

Seasonal Affective Disorder, ironically abbreviated as SAD and also known as seasonal depression, is a common mood disorder in which those who usually appear “neurotypical” exhibit signs of depression during the same time every year, commonly in winter.

There are roughly 3 million cases in the United States and rates vary from place to place. For example, only about 1.4 percent of those who live in Florida are affected as opposed to 9.9 percent of the population of Alaska — and Alaska has a much smaller population than Florida. That’s a very significant margin.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the theory is that there is a “biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter.”

Essentially, a person's environment can throw them out of whack. So what is my point? It’s SAD season, folks, and signs are likely to pop up, especially on a college campus.

In the 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers, responses indicated 52 percent of college students in counseling had severe psychological issues. In a 2016 survey, 39.1 percent of college students surveyed reported being depressed within the last 12 months.

College campuses are breeding grounds for depression and anxiety. It is also important to note that there is a difference between feeling depressed and having depression. There’s a difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety. One is an emotion, while the other is a disorder.

However, no matter which one it may be, it’s a battle. With college students having a disproportionate amount of stress, depression and anxiety run rampant. As SAD season approaches, we need to pay attention.

I think an important thing to note is that if someone has told you they suffer from SAD or you see a shift in them, don’t brush it off. I suppose it could be easy to ignore it as a phase since it’s not necessarily chronic, but it is real and it is rough.

Be aware, but also be sensitive. I don’t really think anyone wants to hear, “Are you depressed?” or “You don’t look well” or “Are you OK?”

Approaching someone about their mental health is a difficult topic. There’s not necessarily a perfect way to do it, but sensitivity and good intentions are the most important things.

In addition, acknowledge that you can’t fix it. Oftentimes when helping people with mental health, out of ignorance we attempt to fix the person who is confiding in us.

Mental health isn’t a paper cut to be covered with a Band-Aid. It’s a struggle, often a life-long one.

I myself am beginning to learn that when someone is confiding, venting or even complaining, more likely than not, they’re not looking for advice. They’re looking for an outlet. And it’s OK to ask what they’re looking for, whether that be feedback or an open ear. All you can do is be there.

Being a person in this world is difficult as it is, but if someone is suffering from mental health issues, it’s that much harder. With this season approaching, all you can do is be aware. Pay attention to your friends. Be aware if someone is acting off. Just be sensitive to those around you — all year round — but especially this season. All you can do is be there.