Worrisome weather

Low spring temperatures may impact student anxiety

By on April 24, 2018

Snowfall in April: A minor inconvenience to some, a major issue for others.

With recent April temperatures dipping into the high 30s at times, the question can be raised: Could these low temperatures be adversely influencing students struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

While anyone may complain about the recent abnormally low spring temperatures, those suffering from SAD may be hit the hardest of all.

SAD is a form of depression that impacts those suffering from it around the same time every year, according to webmd.com. Those suffering typically feel the effects in the fall and winter, when sunlight and warm temperatures can be scarce. Conversely, those impacted by SAD typically feel better emotionally in the spring and summer, according to Kenneth Wenning, PhD, a counselor at the health center.

Wenning described the similarities between the symptoms of depression and SAD.

“People who have Seasonal Affective Disorder – their symptoms are really the same as someone who would come in during the spring time… very depressed, and they would meet the criteria for what we call major depression,” Wenning said. “A student I saw last year was very predictable for the last three or four years – every fall, depressed, and by February or March, it was lifted.”

Wenning explained that, while difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of SAD, many mental health professionals do feel that it may have to do with the lack of sunlight available during fall and winter.

“It may very well have to do with the decreased amount of daylight,” Wenning said. “There is very much a correlation between the days being shorter and there being more darkness, so that might play a role… what else may be behind it is hard to know.”

Chemistry and physical sciences department chair Carol Fenn also believes that Seasonal Affective Disorder could have more to do with light, rather than actual weather patterns themselves.

“The weather may have stayed cold, but the amount of light we’re getting is different,” Fenn said. “I’m well aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter time, when you wake up in the morning and it’s dark. But I think people’s moods improve greatly as you move toward spring, especially when the clocks (change). I think that’s positive that we’re moving into spring – it should be less of an effect on your outlook.”

As for the link between the recent weather patterns and SAD, Wenning is not entirely sure that there is a direct correlation.

“I don’t really know. I know it affects all of us when we’re expecting it to be warm… (the university) put up the sign – ‘Smile, it’s spring’. Well, no it’s not – it’s still winter. And I hear a lot of grumbling about it,” he said. “I think people with depression of any kind, they might also grumble about, ‘Oh it’s a rainy day, it’s cold, when is it going to get warm?,’ but I don’t know if that intensifies their symptoms in any way.”

Junior psychology major Edel Thornton feels that students suffering from SAD could be impacted by the recent inconsistencies in weather.

“I think so,” Thornton said. “I feel like we don’t know if it’s going to be sunny tomorrow or if it’s going to be raining, so I feel that people with (Seasonal Affective Disorder) have had (symptoms) going on for longer.”

While the effects of SAD can be just as severe as depression, there is treatment for the condition, according to Wenning.

“If it’s not adversely impacting their life too badly, we can start out with counseling or psychotherapy and maybe light treatment and see if that helps,” he explained. “And if that doesn’t help, we might suggest getting to a doctor and thinking about an antidepressant.”

Light treatment entails the person suffering from SAD sitting in front of a light that replicates sunlight. Typically, one would sit in front of this light for roughly half an hour, according to Wenning.

Thornton feels as though the prolonged effects of SAD could stand to impact students’ grades.

“I think it can (have an effect on students’ grades),” Thornton said. “People try to get the most sun at this point because we don’t know if it is going to be raining or snowing tomorrow, so people may be studying less when they get that one sunny day or they could be studying more because they’re happier.”

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About Jeremy Troetti

Associate News Editor
Email: jeremy.troetti@quinnipiac.edu
LinkedIn: Jeremy Troetti
Year: 2019
Major: Journalism