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Seasonal Depression: otherwise known as the Michaelmas Blues

Katrin Shabgard discusses the importance of raising awareness around seasonal affective disorder as this term comes to a close.

Content Warning: Seasonal Depression

As Michaelmas draws to a close and the festive season is nearly upon us, the student body finds itself in the awkward interim period of the latter half of term, the Vac still just out of reach. The late November rot has begun to set in, and with it comes the dreaded, but for some unavoidable, seasonal depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that waxes and wanes according to seasonal pattern. Whilst somewhat self-explanatory, it tends to manifest more severely in the winter months, as a result of a lack of sunlight exposure, but this is not to say that summer doesn’t bring its own forms of SAD.

The sheer powerlessness to cope with life, let alone the workload, makes university a uniquely miserable place for those suffering with SAD. The passage of time that seems to be set at 1.5x speed only ever accelerates, making missing a day both a shock to the system and to the books. A day missed begins to snowball, and for those fighting off the natural inclination to go into literal hibernation, there is no easy way out. For those struggling to conceptualise, a student when asked to describe their experience with seasonal depression this term, coined it ‘a perpetual 5th week blues’.

While obviously not everyone is affected by this, most people will experience some form of seasonal related blues within their lifetime and some useful things to look out for in yourself and others would be a loss of interest in hobbies, apathy towards daily activities, a low mood, heightened lethargy, or difficulty with concentration or socialisation. 

Emerging from the library bleary eyed and under the cover of darkness is objectively depressing – a lack of sunlight has been directly linked to a lower production of serotonin, known to cause symptoms of depression. Two million people per year in the UK struggle with SAD, and one in six, according to the NHS, struggle with depression. Rates of depression have been notably higher post-pandemic, and the academic environment of any university, but particularly this one, is a minefield of imposter syndrome, depression, and stress-induced anxiety. To add SAD to the mix can be incredibly debilitating for some and it is important to acknowledge and raise awareness about an issue that could be affecting people around you this time of year.

Michaelmas term for students, but particularly Freshers, is the time to socialise and put yourself out there, but for those suffering from SAD or SAD-like symptoms, socialising may be physically and mentally impossible. This only exacerbates the feelings of guilt that come with the overwhelming pressure to make friends in one’s first term at uni. The idea that these are supposed to be the best years of your life is somewhat incompatible when trying to balance academics and the lack of serotonin coursing through your body. For many, the oblivion of sleep calls and this is completely normal, given the disruption of the circadian rhythm during the winter months, as well as the surges of melatonin as a result of fewer daylight hours.

This time of year can be difficult for some, and while this is not a new discovery, it is more important now than ever to look after yourselves and look out for your friends, whether that be attending College Welfare events, talking to someone close or a GP, and even just taking a stroll through Christchurch Meadows. As we approach the end of term, check up on your tute partners, friends, and loved ones, and remember that better (and sunnier) times are ahead, and Christmas is just around the corner.

Image Credit: Mikhail Nilov via Pexels.

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