Seasonal affective disorder can be attributed to many factors

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Langara students enjoy the dwindling hours of daylight as winter approaches. Photo: Vivian Chui
Langara students enjoy the dwindling hours of daylight as winter approaches. Photo: Vivian Chui

Reported by Vivian Chui

Winter is coming. The days are shorter, exams are coming and spirits are getting low.

At this time of year many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have recently found that people with SAD, a type of seasonal depression, regulate their levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin from season to season differently than healthy individuals.

The researchers presented the study, which involved 11 patients with SAD and 23 healthy participants, at the annual European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Berlin.

Dr. Raymond Lam, head of the mood and anxiety disorders program at UBC, said the study, examining 11 patients, is a classic example of drawing exaggerated conclusions from limited statistics.

“Depression relates more to latitude than weather,” said Lam. “Vancouver has more cases than southern United States.”Lam added that depression rates in Vancouver and Winnipeg are comparable, even though Winnipeg is sunnier than Vancouver.

Reasons for SAD can range from a variety of factors

Michele Bowers, interim chair of the Langara counselling department, said many students come see them for depression throughout the year, more in the winter semesters because enrollment is higher than it is in the summer.

“We don’t have exact numbers on how many students present with SAD, but likely more are appearing in the fall and spring,” said Bowers.

Lam said depression among students is complicated as it involves many factors, including stress due to exams and living away from home.
“Students are particularly at risk, at an age when depression normally starts,” said Lam.

Langara general science students Kristine Lagran and Joyce Ibanez. Photo: Vivian Chui.
(from left to right) Langara general science students Kristine Lagran and Joyce Ibanez standing outside of Langara College. Photo: Vivian Chui.

General science student Joyce Ibanez said she is depressed during the entire season, due to midterm exams and assignments.
“I don’t think it’s weather,” said Ibanez.

General arts student Kristine Lagran said she is more depressed when it rains.
“When it’s sunny, you get to go outside,” said Lagran. She handles depression by staying at home. “I just sleep and watch movies.”

Bowers encouraged students to seek help if they notice “changes in their sleep patterns, appetite, and mood,” or if they have “feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of ending their lives.”
She said, “We help them learn about healthy ways to cope with depression, [such as] identifying and altering negative thoughts and behaviours that may make them feel worse.”

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