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The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

Seasonal depression affects high school students as leaves begin to fall

If you or anyone you know may be facing severe mental health issues, there are multiple resources readily available to provide support: 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 and more. As the months get colder, mental health may decrease; reach out to someone.
Kaden Rhodes

The seasons are changing, and so is students’ mental health. 

With temperatures dropping as fall arrives, the overall mental health and well-being of the population may decrease as well, according to an article from Mayo Clinic. The most likely culprit for this sense of uncomfort and sadness during the colder times of year is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) said that SAD is characterized as a type of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with a seasonal pattern that affects people of all ages in varying ranges of severity. Furthermore, the APA described SAD as being most commonly experienced in fall and winter months, often presenting symptoms similar to those of depression. The association also said that because SAD symptoms include loss of energy and interest in activities, change in appetite and sleep, thoughts of worthlessness and inability to focus, it is much more than the “winter blues.” 

RBHS Outreach Counselor Lesley Thalhuber thinks SAD may be a reason as to why high school students face worsened mental health during the fall. When the brain receives less sunlight due to the shortened days, more of the melatonin chemical is produced as a response, according to John Hopkins Medicine. This can cause issues, as Healthline experts said, as too much melatonin can cause extreme fatigue and grogginess during the day, along with an abnormal sleep pattern at night. Thalhuber said she sees this chemical imbalance play a factor in high school students’ mental health during colder seasons. 

“The decrease in sunlight and shorter days are thought to be part of the reason for sadness and low energy that some people feel during winter months,” Thalhuber said. “Chemicals in students’ brains that are impacted and contribute to a difference in these feelings are increased melatonin and decreased serotonin.”

Because of  the changing weather and chemical imbalance, Thalhuber said she works with many high school students in mental health counseling this time of year. Though she meets with students of all ages, she believes that juniors come in most often because of the extreme stress of 11th grade combined with SAD-like symptoms. To help combat these feelings of seasonal depressions, Thalhuber found a light to add to her office that is designed for people who struggle with less daylight in colder months. She also said that some teachers even provide “mini mental fitness” lessons to all of their students to improve their well-being. 

Senior Emma Blakey also said she has noticed the changing weather play a part in students’ mental health. Many people consider themselves to be “summer people” who thrive in warmer months, Blakey said, but when fall hits, the colder temperatures seem to “freeze” their motivation — often impacting students’ productivity greatly. 

While SAD and other forms of seasonal depression impact everyone differently, Blakey said it is something very important to her, as she started learning about the implications of SAD at 13 years old. 

[To me], seasonal depression means having the constant feeling of a weight on your shoulders that can’t be lifted, and the dread of the school year starting,” Blakey said. “I think there is a lot of pressure to be the perfect person that people think you should be all the time at school [as well].” 

The decrease in sunlight and shorter days are thought to be part of the reason for sadness and low energy that some people feel during winter months. Chemicals in students’ brains that are impacted and contribute to a difference in these feelings are increased melatonin and decreased serotonin.”

— Lesley Thalhuber, RBHS Outreach Counselor

RBHS Senior Composition teacher Jon Myers agrees that the changing weather causes a wave of depression throughout students and teachers. Although he thinks seniors may start to feel unmotivated by the time the leaves start falling, he said students of all ages often experience symptoms of seasonal depression this time of year. 

“In late fall, we have less light, and I think that really affects the mood and mental health of students,” Myers said. “It’s cold and dark and nobody really likes to be out in that — kids drag into class late more often. I think ‘senioritis’ also kicks in, [but] things tend to lighten with more light and warm weather in the spring.”

Students struggling with SAD and/or seasonal depression are not alone — Thalhuber said that RBHS admin and teachers are working to provide safe, supportive spaces at school as the leaves continue to fall. As a high school student herself, Blakey said teachers must understand that the start of the school year is a time where many teens are struggling most and need encouragement. Because kids spend so much of their time in school, Myers thinks teachers and administrators can help encourage them to succeed during the colder months. 

“We are all much more aware of mental health following the pandemic, [but] I think we could ask kids more about how they are doing,” Myers said. “Many kids won’t respond, but some will. It makes a huge difference if they know that you really care about them, and [that] the questions are sincere. I tend to get pretty good responses when I ask, [so] hopefully the students know I care about them as people, not just academics.”

Although, there is only so much administrators can do, and both Thalhuber and Blakey agree that students need motivation outside of school to help them get through the cold months. Blakey suggests to parents to not be upset with their kids who may be falling behind in school, as seasonal depression might be impacting them significantly, but to instead be there for them in a non-overbearing way. 

While there has often been a negative connotation with mental health, 96% of public schools in the U.S. provided mental health services to students in the 2021-2022 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. With the popularization of normalizing mental health counseling in schools, Thalhuber said she has been able to work with more receptive and cooperative families, which has greatly benefited the students — especially those struggling going into the fall semester. Ultimately, she believes that parents can provide support for their students facing seasonal depression and SAD symptoms outside of the school setting.

“Over the years, I have noticed an improvement in families being more accepting of mental health care as something to consider to help their student as the negative stigma surrounding mental health has lessened,” Thalhuber said. “Good conversations at home about basic self-care including proper sleep hygiene, impact of technology on mental health, healthy relationships, balance between school, work and play, setting boundaries and knowing one’s limits can all be helpful strategies no matter what time of year it is.”

As fall and winter approach, symptoms of SAD and other types of depression may arise, especially for high school students. Blakey said that even though many people are becoming more aware of mental health issues, there is always more that can be done to continue this progress. While seeking professional help is encouraged in many situations, Myers said just checking on one another can help, as it shows them that someone is really there for them to prevent seasonal depression from worsening.

Mental health is important no matter what age you are, [especially] for teenagers who are also in the midst of hormonal fluctuations and brain development,” Thalhuber said. “[Because] it can be incredibly confusing and overwhelming, I am so thankful to work alongside people who understand that students are actual human beings with more going on in their lives than school. Our staff truly cares about kids and recognizes that student health includes mental health, [and] is an important element to consider when working together.”

Do you have any ways that help you get through the colder months? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the Contributors
McKenna Parker
McKenna Parker, Features Editor
Senior McKenna Parker is the Features Editor for Southpaw and Bearing News. She is also a member of NHS and Elementary United. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, writing, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
Kaden Rhodes
Kaden Rhodes, Staff Photographer
Junior Kaden Rhodes is a staff photographer for Southpaw and Bearing News. He loves rock climbing, weightlifting and driving.

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