As seasons change, individuals can become S.A.D
Every year, we lose more college students to suicide than almost any other cause of death. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it is the second leading cause of death in ages 10 to 34, the fourth in ages 35 to 54, the eighth in ages 55 to 64, and the tenth leading cause in America overall. More than 44,000 people in America alone lose the battle with mental illness, and the worst part is that all those deaths were preventable. It seems some of these people weren’t just fighting their demons; they were also fighting the weather and its effects
on their minds. A 2013 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that Google searches pertaining
to mental illnesses and managing said illnesses in America were 37 percent higher in winter than in summer. Researchers link the lower levels of sunlight, changes in physical activity and diminished levels of Vitamin D as
contributors to the “winter blues.” This is a well-documented pattern of seasonal behavior but is not a mental illness
itself. The more serious counterpart of the “winter blues” is known, according to the NIMH, as Seasonal Affective
It is not just depression that becomes more difficult to manage as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. In a 2014 study conducted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 64 percent of people with a diagnosed mental illness said that their symptoms were tougher to manage during the winter months. The “winter blues” affect people already living with a mental illness, making their struggle harder. Despite how it may seem, winter is not the only risky season. Some of the largest spikes in suicide seasonally occur in the spring. However, the risk is always there and should always be at the back of our minds when discussing seasonal difficulties of living with mental illness. It is still up for debate what triggers this springtime spike of suicide. The NIMH is unsure of whether it is the intensity of the sunlight, the rising temperatures, or the hope that sunnier days and warmer weather will bring comfort. However, the stress and depression of winter proves to be persistent. There’s no way to gauge how many lives are lost because of the seasonal dip in mental health, but we do know that there are future lives that can be saved with our help.
Mental illness is a daily struggle, and suicide is a year-round threat. We as a community must help one another, especially as we enter into fall with winter just around the corner. Strategies for helping someone who may be battling with suicidal thoughts are to ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to their tone and how much they are willing to share. Encourage them to take care of themselves, share similar experiences and to monitor their social media for any warning signs. Numbers to contact for help with suicidal thoughts personally or on behalf of a loved one are the 24/7 Crisis Hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741-741 for the 24/7 Crisis Text Line.
So in these coming months, be kind, but most importantly, be observant; it could save a life.