Community / Lifestyle

There’s help for SAD

content warning: mention of suicide

As a student who has struggled with mental health for most of my life, I can definitely feel the effects of depression even more as it gets colder. I often experience the symptoms to a higher degree, and I wanted to learn more about why exactly the cold weather plays such a big role in my mental health. 

Dana Hall’s counselor Ms. Deanna Saunders told me that “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) describes depression that’s tied to the season and the weather. Many people with SAD have ‘winter depression,’ meaning they feel depressed in the late fall and winter and then feel better when it’s warmer.” She said that the symptoms of SAD include similar symptoms to standard depression, such as “low mood, losing interest in activities, changes in sleep and eating, difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless or worthless, and thoughts of suicide. Winter depression can also have specific symptoms like hiding out from friends, overeating, gaining weight, and sleeping a lot (aka ‘hibernation mode’).” 

Ms. Sanders advises students that “you don’t need to have all symptoms to be diagnosed with SAD,” meaning that any or all of these feelings are just as important and valid. She adds that “if some of those symptoms feel familiar to you or if you are having any thoughts about suicide, you should talk to your doctor, school counselor, or another trusted adult about getting help.”

Dana Hall provides three counselors in the upper school: Dr. Natalie Zervas, Ms. Beth Sharp, and Ms. Saunders, who can support students dealing with these symptoms. If you want to connect with a counselor for any reason, you can do so by asking your advisor to contact them, or by emailing one of the counselors personally.

Ms. Saunders speaks for all three when saying “we would love to hear from you!” and explains the process that a student would go through after reaching out: “Counselors set up a first meeting with students who reach out to learn more about what the student is dealing with. Then, the counselor works with the student to figure out what kind of support will be helpful. This might include regular meetings with the counselor (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly), or getting connected to a therapist outside of school, which Dana Hall counselors can help you do.” She adds that Dana Hall counselors can also help you “advocate for your needs with teachers and others in the community.” For example, Ms. Saunders says that “if winter depression symptoms are making it hard for you to focus in class, counselors can help you ask your teachers for the accommodations you’re needing”.

If you think you may be dealing with depression or any other mental health challenge, you are encouraged to seek help. As someone living with these challenges, I can testify that doing so makes an extremely positive difference. Ms. Saunders reminds us that “one of the symptoms of depression is hopelessness, so you might have thoughts like, ‘counseling or therapy won’t work for me,’ or ‘this is just the way I am.’” This is something that I struggled with for a while, and from experience, I am here to tell you that these thoughts can absolutely come, yet that they are not true. Ms. Saunders tells me “I’ve worked with many students dealing with depression, and I’ve seen them go from feeling down and hopeless to having energy again, connecting with friends again, and enjoying life.” She highlights that “getting better is possible” and that you do not need to try to power through these hard times on your own.

To combat these overwhelming feelings, here are some recommendations from me, Ms. Saunders, as well as other professionals:

First, make sure you’re fitting fun activities into your week, whether that’s starting a new hobby, FaceTiming with friends, reading a good book, or dancing in your room to an upbeat playlist. Fun activities can make a big difference in your mood! It’s easy and sometimes entertaining to scroll on your phone, but your mood will be better if you regularly switch up your other activities.

Second, make sure you’re building healthy routines in your life: getting enough sleep and trying to go to bed and wake up at a similar time every day; eating nutritious food, and making time for exercise. Staying active and healthy have a very large positive effect on your mood.

Lastly, know yourself and what works for you. Find what makes you motivated and happy, and if you need support with any of these healthy habits, Ms. Saunders recommends asking a friend to be an accountability buddy, which can be helpful.  

SAD is a common disorder to have, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Friends, family, and the Dana Hall community are here to support you through this challenge if you believe you are affected by SAD (or anything else!). Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, give a meeting with a counselor a try, or speak to a trusted adult or friend about how you are feeling and how to improve your feelings as this winter (hopefully!) begins to wrap up.  

Contact information:

 24/7 Crisis text line: 741741

24/7 Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 

Suicide prevention website:

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