Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects students and teachers

In the midst of a typical Pacific Northwest winter, some Lincoln students and teachers find themselves yet again severely depressed.  

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),  can cause a variety of symptoms including a depressed, , unmotivated, hopeless and irritable state of mind in the winter months. People are affected by SAD due to lack of natural light, which is not abnormal in the typically rainy climate of the Pacific Northwest.

“I didn’t want to go outside or hang out with friends at all,” says Lincoln student Leah Kunis. Kunis grew up in Finland, where a classic dim winter makes up six months of the year.  Diagnosed at seven, Kunis found herself severely depressed in the darker months of Finland. Like many affected by SAD, Kunis found herself sleeping frequently and was completely unmotivated to continue activities that she usually loves.

Kunis was able to overcome SAD with the help of light therapy, but some people affected by SAD are not this fourtunate.

Although light therapy is at least as effective as antidepressant medications for treating seasonal affective disorder, it doesn’t work or isn’t appropriate for everyone,” says Harvard Medical School senior editor Michael Craig Miller in a news article. On the contrary, for people with bipolar disorder, it can trigger hypomanic or manic episodes and can cause eye damage for people suffering from diabetes.

It “feels like I’m having an existential crisis” says John Walker in a Seattle Times article. Ever since moving to the Pacific Northwest from Kentucky, Walker has felt the difference that lack of natural light has on himself.

Lincoln nurse Mary Johnson also noticed that students coming to Lincoln from sunnier areas also “really struggle with this.”

“It can really affect your melatonin and serotonin levels which both of those interplay with your mood,” says Johnson. It can be difficult to treat minors because “Really the best treatment is to change your environment,” but with minors, “you really don’t have the ability to change your circumstances.” Overall, students with SAD in the Pacific Northwest without an option to move to a sunnier climate suffer more than those with that option.

The combination of dark skies in rainy Pacific Northwest and lack of natural light due to small windows and vintage-style architecture makes Lincoln an unfortunate place to be for students and teachers with SAD. According to Johnston, this is simply a fact. “The research shows that the lack of light is very intertwined with the symptoms.”

The new Lincoln building may help future students who are suffering from SAD. Big windows is a common theme of the architecture for other new public schools around Portland such as Westview High School and Bonny Slope Elementary School. There is hope in the new Lincoln for those suffering from SAD, and with help of light therapy, there may be hope today.