Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder in Canada, with a Special Lens on Racial Dynamics

If you live in Canada, you can resonate with the term “January Blues”.  November and December share the same darkness and chill, filled with anticipation and joy leading up to the holidays. However, as January unfolds with less to look forward to, the winter joy often fades, and our mood can be affected by the persistent gloomy weather. For some, this manifests into what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to CMHA, Seasonal Affective Disorders make up about 10% of all depression cases. The Canadian Psychological Association reports that 15% of Canadians experience mild forms of SAD and around 2-3% experience SAD severely.

Given our focus on providing mental health services to racialized and Black individuals at Across Boundaries, this blog aims to explore the specific impact of SAD within the context of race.

What do SAD symptoms look like?

The common symptoms include fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, drastic changes in sleeping and eating patterns, feelings of hopelessness and anhedonia (losing interest in activities that once provided pleasure).

What causes SAD?

Our bodies operate according to a biological clock known as a circadian rhythm. In the evolution towards our modern lifestyle, artificial light has enabled us to extend our activities well beyond sunset. However, the challenge arises when our instinctive response is to feel sleepy once the sun sets, even if it occurs as early as 4 pm. The reality is that it is difficult to manage the pressure of maintaining the same level of productivity during the winter months as we do in the summer.

The Relationship between SAD and Race:

Research indicates that Vitamin D supplements can enhance mood, since Vitamin D increases the availability of serotonin in the brain. Yet, pigmentation reduces Vitamin D production in the skin, making African Americans more likely to be deficient and putting them at higher risk for SAD.

However, the intersection between race and depression is much deeper than supplements. Recent studies reveal that Black individuals are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms. In fact, the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry explored how structural racism impacts patients’ mental health. They identified systemic racism, discrimination, and cultural stigma as potential factors that may amplify the impact of SAD within these communities. Furthermore, a study in the National Library of Medicine suggests that Black people with depression have more severe symptoms and a longer illness course compared to Caucasians.

The reality is that it’s difficult to treat something if it’s not understood, which is why our staff from racialized communities are able to understand the nature of this disorder from the perspective of lived experience . These insights address the specific needs of racialized communities who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder and mental health challenges. By offering services in 15+ different languages, we make connections that are real, meaningful and relevant along with accessible resources that support individuals to seek help.

What are some ways to cope with SAD?

1. Move

Even in the dark months, a bit of exercise can do wonders. Follow free workout videos on YouTube—no equipment needed. It’s about moving your body to boost your mood. 

2. Use Light Therapy

Use a light therapy lamp in the morning to mimic sunlight, enhance alertness, and regulate serotonin for a balanced mood.

3. Find Indoor Joy

Embrace indoor activities that bring happiness. Learn to paint, try new recipes, or get lost in a good book. Find purpose in these activities.

If you or someone you know is struggling with SAD, call us at 416-787-3007.

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