Shining a Light on Seasonal Shadows: Winter Depression at Nobles

Eli Schotland, Staff Writer

November 13, 2023

As the seasons change and daylight savings time begins, many students find themselves waking up before the sun rises and getting home after it sets. The combination of limited daylight and long hours, as well as the increase in work as the year goes on, means that students’ mental health tends to decline during the winter months. Many students attribute their poor mental health during this season to “seasonal depression,” a term that gets bandied about frequently, and often inaccurately.

It is important to understand what seasonal depression really is, and to investigate if it really affects students at Nobles. School Psychologist Jen Hamilton said, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition in which people start to feel down or unlike themselves when, in mid-fall and through the winter, the days become shorter and there is less daylight. It’s natural to feel that you have less energy and motivation when there is less exposure to sunlight during the day, but for some people, this effect is magnified and can affect how they think, feel, and manage daily tasks.” 

In order to better understand the mental health of the student body during their time at Nobles, The Nobleman conducted a survey that asked students to characterize their mental health during each academic quarter. The results were clear: student mental health experiences a steep decline during the second and third quarters, or from November to mid-March. It remains unclear whether this is due to the changing seasons or the increased workload during the winter months. Students attributed the decline in mental health to both. During the winter academic quarters, the average student’s workload increases dramatically. The Nobleman conducted an additional survey to investigate whether the increased workload in past years has corresponded to a decline in mental health.

During the first quarter, approximately 88% of students described their mental health as positive or neutral, and approximately 12% described it negatively. During the second quarter, the percentage of students who reported negative mental health increased to about 20%. In the third quarter, the number climbed to 36%. In quarter 4, student mental health significantly improved: only about 16% of students reported having poor mental health.

Forms response chart. Question title: Historically, how would you describe your mental health in Quarter 3?. Number of responses: 293 responses.

(Graphic Credit: Eli Schotland)

When The Nobleman asked if students thought that the quarters had a direct effect on their mental health, 60% responded in the affirmative, 17% responded in the negative, and the remaining 23% were unsure. There was also a free response portion of the survey where students were asked to share their thoughts. Some students attributed their answers to their workload: “The amount of work and pressure that the school puts on is the only reason that my mental health is terrible,” one student said. Another student attributed their worsened mental health to seasonal exams. “When it is finals or midterms, the quarters get more stressful and I get worried,” they said. However, some students also blamed the seasonal changes, or a combination of the two factors, saying things like: “Seasonal depression is real,” and “The fall and winter can be brutal due to the grind and work load along with weather.”

It seems that student mental health struggles during the winter months due to a variety of factors, particularly the combination of less daylight with the increased workload. The third quarter is the longest, and the second quarter is the shortest, which compels teachers to assign more material before winter break begins. This makes midterms even harder and more stressful for many students.

Whether Nobles will adjust the start and end dates of other quarters to balance students’ workload remains to be seen. Hamilton said, “Nobles’ administration is always looking for ways to support student well-being, as evidenced by the schedule overhaul that occurred this year. I know that a lot of thought has gone into the start and end dates of the quarters, including making sure to balance the length of each quarter, so I don’t think we would switch things around at this point; but we would certainly want to hear from students what their concerns are.” As above, students are mostly concerned by how the combination of less daylight and increased workload affects their mental health. To solve this problem, Nobles could incorporate more late starts. Since assembly tends to be emptier during the winter as students concentrate on their schoolwork, it would be easier to work more late starts into the schedule, allowing students more time to rest, as well as to wake up at a reasonable time. Also, the administration should continue to provide its excellent mental health services, like therapy dogs during exams, or the Learning Center’s midterm prep meetings. It is important to remember that SAD is a condition that requires diagnosis from a professional, so if you or a friend is really struggling during the winter slog, you should reach out to your guidance counselor for help.

(Photo Credit: Avery Winder)

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