With Winter Comes Snowflakes

Sorcha Lanigan documents a mental disorder that can stop anyone in their tracks this season

Autumn has left Cork abruptly and slammed the door on the way out. The shudder has sent all the leaves to the ground at once, and walking to college has become synonymous with staggering through a busy ice rink without blades; the ground is wet and slippery, the air damp and cold.

It’s during this time that Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the appropriately acronymed ‘SAD’ seeps Jack Frost-like into the air and drifts down in black little snowflakes, covering the shoulders of the 10% of Irish people who are affected. This is according to the HSE, on HSE.ie.

Seasonal Affective Disorder has been recognised as a mood disorder where people who have do not have trouble with their mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter and no, it doesn’t just manifest itself due to the heavy onslaught of mass exams approaching.

Where once the days could be looked at through a vivid kaleidoscope that when twisted revealed a vibrant world of orange, red and yellow hues – pink skies, golden leaves, dramatic sunsets; an impressionist’s dream – the evenings are now plunged into darkness and autumn has snowballed into winter. The temperature swings between having icicles begin to crystallise on your eyelashes from spending too much time in the cold, or scratching at dermatitis caused by sweltering indoor heating systems that parch and crack the skin.

The specific causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder remain unknown today, but the main factors are thought to be a lack of vitamin D caused by the low sunlight levels and a disturbance in your internal body clock. This decrease in sunshine may disrupt and wreak havoc on people with a sensitive circadian rhythm, (that’s a biological clock, for those without a degree in pop psychology). Symptoms include: feeling down for most of the day (nearly every day), a lowness in energy, inertia, a loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, a loss of interest in sex, and having difficulty concentrating.

VICE has scathingly described it as the ‘fake-sounding sadness you can supposedly cure by looking at a box’, alluding to the recently developed ‘lightbox’ that mimics the flow of natural sunlight outside of winter months, and has been heralded as having even more success on patients than oral medications.

In such a season where time creeps by at a glacial pace and the sky becomes an unbearably harsh presence, glaring white-like hospital lights that leave marks under your eyelids if stared at for too long- a tool such as a light box could have a positive and soothing impact on those who feel affected. However, since this is a pretty pricey remedy, it should also be pointed out that UCC offers an excellent, free and confidential counselling service for students that need it, particularly in such a stressful exam season.
For SAD sufferers everywhere, chins up, balaclavas braved, and the ice will slowly begin to melt soon.

The student counselling service in UCC can be contacted on 021-4903565.