Although this year’s winter has been unusually mild, it hasn’t disappointed when it comes to dreary mornings and very short days. With impending papers in November and exams in December, I began to feel as sluggish and uninspired as the view outside my window. At first, it was easy to dismiss my lack of motivation and productivity — after all, aren’t we a little prone to avoiding studying during finals season and taking extended naps whenever possible?
Soon enough, however, the problem became impossible to ignore. I found myself sleeping ten to twelve hours a day, and resorting to unhealthy eating habits to cope with the stress of classes and finals. Even more concerning was my lack of motivation for any activity at all, and my inability to concentrate on the tasks before me.
With a little research, I began to suspect that I was experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
As defined by the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), SAD is the most severe manifestation of the seasonal mood changes that affect many people in late autumn and winter, when the daylight hours get significantly shorter.
While many of the given symptoms aligned with my experiences, doubts immediately occurred to me: was I overreacting? Many students often experience the “winter blues,” and my heavy course and workload was undoubtedly not helping the situation. When I began to fall behind on my schoolwork, however, I knew that it was time to look for some sort of help.
Although the Health and Wellness Centre was located just a short walk from my house and was accepting appointments from all U of T students, I also knew that the mental health services on campus do not have a very good reputation. Nevertheless, my family doctor was dozens of miles away, and, with important deadlines approaching, I figured I would give campus services a try.
At first, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. The centre scheduled me for a next-day appointment, and the doctor listened attentively to my symptoms and concerns.
Although he immediately gave me a range of recommendations, such as increasing my physical activity and shifting to a more protein and complex carbohydrate packed diet, insistent on fully establishing the cause of my sluggishness and depression. He recommended a vitamin D supplement, prescribed several blood tests and a follow-up appointment.
Most importantly, the doctor expressed genuine concern about my health and well being. In fact, during my follow-up, the doctor continued to insist that, despite my improved condition, I continue to monitor the situation and return for a follow-up appointment wherever necessary.
My situation is just one of many, and does not negate the remaining problems of stigma and inadequate services that others continue to face. I want to highlight, however, that there are professionals on this campus who are caring and willing to help students struggling with mental health issues. It is unfortunate that the distribution of these professionals seems to be based on luck, and that is something the administration should strive to improve in the future.
In any case, however, I would encourage anyone struggling with feelings of depression, whether seasonal or otherwise, to seek help on campus. SAD is a legitimate illness and should be treated as such, no matter whether it feels like mere “winter blues.”
Daryna Kutsyna is a third-year student at Trinity College studying international relations and history. She is the co-president of U of T’s Equal Voice Chapter; the views expressed here are her own.