As COVID-19 restrictions ease across the province, students are expected to return to in-person learning. Experts believe this could potentially create pressures for individuals who are navigating seasonal depression.
Although seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can occur year-round, the wintertime change in daylight tends to be a huge trigger, according to Diana Brecher, a clinical psychologist at Ryerson University.
Individuals with seasonal depression can experience feelings of hopelessness, sluggishness and agitation. They may also overeat, oversleep and experience a lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed, according to an article by Harvard Health titled ‘Shining a light on winter depression.’
Brecher believes that the continued removal of COVID-19 restrictions will have both positive and negative effects on individuals dealing with depression.
“For those who are already quite depressed, there could be some amount of pressure to be well before you’re well,” Brecher said. “This can be an issue for those who feel like hibernating still, which is quite consistent with the lockdown. However, if you feel like you can push yourself to try to socialize and exercise more this could be beneficial to combat a seasonal affective disorder.”
Brecher stresses the importance of not pushing yourself too far. “If you aren’t ready for this, you might need some additional help and in that case self-compassion becomes really important,” she said. “So say, ‘OK I am dealing with depression and it isn’t nothing, it’s something.’”
Brecher also echoes the importance of taking advantage of daylight as much as possible through working in areas with windows, waking up earlier to reap the benefits of natural lighting and committing to plans that get you outside in the afternoon. She also mentions the importance of monitoring diets as unhealthy foods slow down digestion in the winter months.
Larissa Torres, a psychology major at the University of Guelph-Humber, believes returning to in-person learning in the middle of the semester will be more harmful than beneficial to those navigating seasonal depression.
“The pandemic itself is still very stressful. Having online education at home has allowed me to feel more in control as online courses are more convenient and flexible,” Torres said. “I appreciate having the extra support and comfort of my family at home when I’m feeling anxious or depressed. I think that forcing students to return halfway through the semester will only create more anxiety and stress and why wouldn’t we try to avoid that after the past two years.”
Erica De Luca, an economics and management science student at Ryerson, identified the shorter days and lack of daylight as the causes of her irritable mood during the winter.
“The days get shorter in the winter and sometimes this results in me feeling like I have accomplished very little during the day,” she said.
Unfortunately, sometimes winter ends, spring begins and the individual is still left battling depression.
Brecher explained that these individuals may have work to do on some related issues to their seasonal depression. “If you have been depressed for four months and aren’t being social or present for the people in your day-to-day life, repercussions and conflict could arise as a result of your seasonal depression,” she said.
“I’m definitely happy knowing that we are getting back to some form of normality,” De Luca said. “However, I think it’s also important to consider the other side. I know that for myself I have very little motivation to leave the house and there’s definitely a part of me that feels guilty about this. This guilt can very easily transform into anxiety, which will only make me more anxious and nervous about returning to campus.”
Emma Vecchiarelli, a creative industries student at Ryerson University believes that seasonal depression has trickled its way into her daily life.
She explains that when she’s hit by a wave of depression she becomes extremely lethargic and unmotivated. “It’s honestly hard to even get out of bed in the morning, especially given the state of the world right now,” she said, “I have adjusted to very slow mornings and I don’t think I’m prepared to upset this routine mid-semester.”
Vecchiarelli says that online courses have been very beneficial for her mental health. “While it took getting used to, I’ve noticed that I’m much happier and relaxed at home than in school,” she said.
“It’s hard to navigate through depression. I find that it’s important to just treat each day like it’s a fresh start and I definitely try not to dwell on the past or how I felt the previous day. I’ve tried therapy before and it was super beneficial. I’m always open to speaking with people who specialize in this to get their take and hear their tips on how I can better myself.”
Seasonal depression is a significant issue and if you are struggling and have used up all of your inner resources, Brecher emphasizes the importance of getting professional help.
“There is a system in place to support students at Ryerson University struggling with depression. However you must reach out because otherwise no one would know,” Brecher said. “It’s important to not just ‘tough it out’ but to get help early on, so that you don’t inadvertently explode your life.”
For those in search of professional help, Ryerson’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling offers access to licensed counsellors via telephone and mobile chat, as well as information on academic accommodations, health promotion and the Ryerson medical centre.
Julian Beltrano is a journalism student at Ryerson University who lives in Woodbridge, Ontario. Julian is 22-years-old and is passionate about telling stories and writing about unique topics. Prior to entering the journalism program, Julian was unsure as to what he wanted in a future career as he considered programs from various fields. Currently, Julian works as a customer service representative at Winners and has shown interest in becoming a high school English teacher.