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Biology 202, Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip

Seasonal Depression

Amy Johnson

Why is it that on the first nice spring day every student at this school all of a sudden becomes happy-go-lucky and frolics around campus? Throughout the winter months all everywhere I look I see sad faces and unhappy, tired people trudging along the paths. Yet, the sun comes out, and all the students seem to have forgotten their worries. This is explained by seasonal affective disorder, a depression occurring each year at the same time, starting in the fall and winter and ending in the spring. There is also a lesser version of this, known as the "winter blues ((5))."

Some symptoms of SAD are fatigue, increased need for sleep, weight gain, increase in appetite, and a lack of energy. In general, four to six percent of the US population suffers from SAD ((5)).

The occurrence of SAD increases the further from the equator one travels. More specifically, the higher the latitude of a location the more prevalent SAD is. This is most likely true because the higher the latitude the colder, harsher, and darker the winters are. Changes in the availability of sunlight are one of the main triggers of SAD ((1)). For example, only one percent of the population of Florida suffers from SAD, compared to four in Washington, DC, and nearly ten percent in Alaska ((5)). That is a huge difference and lends support to the idea that it is triggered by a change in sunlight exposure.

In addition, of all the people who suffer from SAD, over seventy percent are young women, which explains the change in mood at Bryn Mawr. One theory as to why women are more likely to suffer is because women with small children are more likely to be isolated during the winter months. And, in general women are more likely to suffer from depression than men ((2)). I believe this could be because when something bothers a man it is socially accepted if he takes out his anger through actions, like punching a punching bag. Women on the other hand, tend to hide their emotions, which is why I believe they may be more likely to suffer from depression. And, supposedly decreased exposure to sunlight affects the biological clock that affects mood, sleep, and hormones making women extremely susceptible ((3)).

Another possible reason for SAD is that neurotransmitters may be altered in SAD sufferers. It is thought that exposure to light can fix this. Which is one reason that the treatment for SAD is, along with mood stabilizers, light therapy. Light therapy requires people to sit in front of a white light for a certain time period each day. They do not need to look at the light and can read or eat or do work in the meantime ((5)).

I find the type of person affected by SAD to be quite interesting, especially since I am close to being in the prime range, young and female. Yet, I never feel like I am overly depressed in the winter months. One of my friends told me that once winter begins I am actually happier, most likely because basketball season (my favorite sport to play and watch) starts. This leads to the conclusion that exercise is a key ingredient, I think, to fighting depression.

Two weeks ago people suffering from SAD would have been still hibernating, yet like all the animals that wake up when spring arrives, so did the SAD sufferers. The young women at Bryn Mawr, who if affected, most likely have the less severe "winter blues" could do as my roommate does in the winter and use a desk lamp that emits sunlight so as to lessen her risk.


1) Psychology Information Online: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

2) Seasonal Affective Disorder and Light Therapy.

3) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

4) Seasonal Depression (SAD).

5) What is Seasonal Depression?

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