SAD in Students: What is it?

One rationally assumes that the summer is a glorious time of relaxation; no uni, no deadlines, no stress, right? After the multiple obligatory end – of – year nights out and bingeing on Netflix, the initial euphoria of summer wears off. However, what seems so often to be written off as a small case of the ‘summer blues’ may be what psychiatrists term as reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is highly common within students during the winter months; lack of sunlight hours and increased stressed levels lead to a rise in the body’s production of melatonin, a key hormone causing depression. Yet, when the spring semester ends, financial pressure, change of routine and a breakdown or alteration in social interactions are the reason for many students’ summers being not quite what they cracked up to be.

Students are notorious for living on the breadline during term time. Yet in the summer months, it is even more difficult to make the final instalment of student loan last until the end of September. Those lucky enough to bag a full time job sometimes end up in a depressing pattern of eat, sleep, work and repeat. The perpetual cycle of wanting to enjoy the summer but also needing money to do so, is a cause of concern and struggle for an increasing number of students in the UK. However, the predicament is even worse for those who are jobless; no or very little income can make anyone feel down at the best of times. Even with parent support from those who go home, issues such as finance, cannot always be resolved.

One of the best things about student life is the independence and liberty to choose what we want to eat, what we want to do and who we want to see. However, this concept of freedom is very much put to the test, as student life is thrown out the window when students return home and are restricted to parents’ ‘house rules’ for the summer months. Although the burden of cooking is taken away for a while, 3am trips to Maccy’s are no longer deemed necessary or socially acceptable. Although this may seem a trivial point to some, for others, the ability to escape and follow their own motives is essential to emotional stability. When students return home, they have to re-engage with the family routine despite being ruled by their own decisions for the last nine months. Such drastic changes can make the prospect of summer all the more daunting for those already with anxiety or other such mental health conditions.

Whilst hometown living is restrictive, life back in a university town is somewhat lonely. When students leave, pensioners and school children emerge, causing havoc and distress for those of students left behind. Cathays for example, is a mere echo of itself during term time. What used to be a standard trip to Sainsbury’s is now a walk down a lonely road where the tumbleweeds have more of a social calendar than students do. Whilst some are able to thrive in such atmospheres relishing in the independence, peace and quiet, a majority find social seclusion to be a huge influence on mood and motivation. After all, why get out of bed if there is nothing or no one to get out of bed for? With little social interaction and a scant to-do list, this is a thought that echoes in the minds of many lonesome students over the summer holidays.

University is a very stressful time for students. Despite being some of the best years of their lives, students often develop emotional and mental health issues associated with the pressure of university. Student summer holidays are partly spent preparing for the year ahead. University work is stressful at the best of times, especially when there is no pressing urgency to do it. Instead of enjoying summer, many students constantly have the prospect of university work in the back of their minds, exhausting and emotionally draining them. Instead of a vacation, students are constantly haunted by the never-ending reading list and a tonne of extra dissertation research for the coming semester.

That is not to say that every student in the UK is considered to suffer with SAD. Most of the time, students feel down in the summer just because of sheer boredom; it cannot be helped. The summer simply cannot compare to the fast-paced atmosphere of university during term time. But when boredom turns into lack of motivation and inability to get out of bed, one must consider that they’re experiencing more than a small bout of ‘summer blues’. The most important thing to remember is that no one is alone. Mental health is something that many universities cater for, with a support network designed to benefit students with a wide variety of troubles and concerns. Whether at home or staying at university over the summer, students must remember to take advantage of the services around them; talk to people. Many students suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and sometimes it is the small things such as light exercise and some social interaction which makes a long and dull summer that little bit brighter.


Originally published on Quench Magazine website:

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