Long, cold spring takes toll on students, staff

Alyssa Carino, Staff Writer

With an unseasonably long and cold spring, the anticipation of summer is affecting some at South. Seasonal Depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), has put a strain on the minds of students and teachers in Northern Illinois.

The sluggishness, irritation, and low energy that one can experience with seasonal depression causes an inability to focus during school, sometimes leading to a decline in grades and motivation for teenagers.
Students have reported fatigue, increased sadness, and the lack of enjoyment in things they’ve previously enjoyed as a result of seasonal depression.

“There’s really not much you can do so it almost puts a toll on your life. It kind of puts your life on hold because it’s so hard to be yourself in [colder weather],” said Hope Cooney, senior.

On top of not feeling herself, Cooney becomes very stressed in dreary weather.

“Personally, with me, stress has such a weight and it makes me feel not in control of my life,” Cooney said.
Many students and teachers have struggled since coming back in person and some feel that mental health is not talked about enough. Re-learning how to participate in a classroom environment and handling the workload is all bound to impact students’ academics.

“We have a lot of students that are capable, but they failed their classes last year. A lot of their confidence is knocked or they’re even more stressed because they’ve got to make up all these classes. Their mental health is impacted in so many ways and we don’t have time to address it in the classroom,” said English teacher Kaitlin Mahoney.

Mahoney has seen firsthand how the students’ moods shift in colder months compared to warmer months, and she finds it heartbreaking.

“The number one factor that’s impacting their performance is the number one thing we don’t have time to address. We [as teachers] aren’t given the time to address or the tools to address and that’s what we’re seeing,” Mahoney said.

Students aren’t given the tools to address their mental health because teachers aren’t given the time to address the topic, and this leads students to become more isolated and tired. This affects social life and often limits interactions with others.

“[In colder weather] I start noticing that I get very secluded and in my own head. I try to push my way out, away from people that I usually hang out with, which has been a real struggle,” junior Bella Renzi said.
It is common for teenagers with seasonal depression to have appetite changes, oversleep, be in a constant state of tiredness or weakness, and have increased irritability. Lashing out and extreme emotions are also frequent, and this tends to affect the family members and friends of people with seasonal affective disorder.

Renzi believes that it’s important for others to know that when people who have seasonal depression act out, it is not on purpose. Sometimes “they can’t explain how they’re feeling,” so they convey their emotions in any way they can.

“Don’t ignore [your mental health]; bring it to light and if you’re scared of talking about it, don’t be because lots of people are mental health advocates and go through those things. Don’t be afraid to go get the help you need, [because in the long run] it will be beneficial,” Renzi said.

Although there is a stigma around mental health, many students and teachers have been educating themselves and bringing light to the issue recently. Society has made it easier for people to talk about their mental health today, and schools are teaching that it is okay to reach out for help when needed.
“I would say the first [step in seeking out] is realizing that there is no shame, and the second is to find somebody that you trust to at least start talking about it with. That could be a friend, or a peer, and being open to that peer’s suggestions, and knowing that it’s going to have to go beyond your peer,” Mahoney said.

There are many coping strategies that are effective in assisting one through cloudy, chilly weather, including aromatherapy, lightboxes, and exercise. Some cite the most effective coping strategy for stress and seasonal affective disorder involves what we put in our bodies.

“Believe it or not, diet [affects mental health the most]. Your body makes a lot of serotonin by digesting fresh fruits and vegetables. When you start feeling the symptoms of SAD, increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables seems to make a marked difference,” said Licensed Clinical Psychologist of Plainfield, Dr. William Agor.

By increasing fruit and vegetable intake, the body feels more energized, leading to happier and healthier mindsets. The human mind can be a very powerful assistant to the healing process. By using the placebo effect, which is when the brain convinces the body that it’s receiving real treatment when it’s not, teens can potentially use it to convince their brain that it is releasing serotonin.

Although rainy days seem to plague the days approaching the end of the school year, positivity and a few healthy coping skills can make all the difference.

“It’s important to know yourself,” Agor said. “To understand that things will pass, and they do get better.”