Back to news

The winter months can affect your mental health more than you think

Thursday 12 January 2017 Student Journalists

January is synonymous with being a depressing month. You’ve gone from the high that is Christmas and all its festivities to suddenly finding yourself in the dark, midst of exam hell at university, gloomy weather, feeling sluggish and overweight thanks to Christmas. There are also loads of expectations for you to follow New Year Resolutions, which most of the time, are never followed through.

It’s easy to suddenly feel down this time of year. It’s a new year and we are constantly surrounded by things telling us to improve ourselves, whether its attending the gym, starting a new hobby or cutting out certain foods. It is also dark, damp and gloomy outside with decreased sunshine which majorly affects our moods, more so than we realise.

As students, it is important for us to feel motivated and engaged in our studies. However, around this time of year, many of us suddenly feel a decrease in mood, low energy levels and bouts of anxiety. These symptoms can be linked to a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can affect all kinds of people and is predominately caused by the change of seasons. Since there is more darkness than sunlight due to shorter days, many find it difficult.

Jane Byrne, a student at Queens University Belfast, suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder. She spoke to me and described what it was like suffering from the disorder whilst at university and the helpful support she received.

“For years I always felt like my energy disappeared over the winter months. I was exhausted, easily distracted and disengaged. While others, especially my university friends, were out enjoying themselves, I just longed for my bed.

“However, exhaustion turned into complete detachment from everything. I realised that I needed to seek help as my mental was hugely affected my studies. I contacted my university quickly started counselling sessions.

“I was then referred to my GP and was diagnosed with clinical depression. This low point lasted for a while, however once winter passed I noticed my mood change. I no longer felt as drained, detached and hopeless as I had before. I had more energy, was more engaged with family, friends and most importantly, my studies at university.

“After more consultations through my GP, I was diagnosed with SAD. Following more counselling sessions, I realised that my SAD had been triggered by January exams and assignments at university. My poor mental health scared me as a student, I was worried I’d fail my degree.

“I think the level of pressure put on university students during the winter is unnecessary, and can have a huge impact on those that suffer not only with Seasonal Affective Disorder, as well as other mental health issues.

“However, the support I received from Queens and my GP, gave me the help and support that I desperately needed at such a difficult time. I now receive counselling sessions each semester that helps me work through any emotional issues.”

Whether it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder or any kind of mental illness you’re suffering from, it is extremely important to speak to your university. Universities offer support and guidance throughout your studies if you are experiencing any kind of mental hardship.

*Names featured have been changed to protect identity.



Niamh Burns

Hi, I’m Niamh. I am a recent English Literature graduate from Ulster University, now studying an NCTJ Professional Journalism course at North West Regional College in Derry, Northern Ireland. I have always wanted to become a journalist and have spent the last few years interning at newspapers and magazines throughout Northern Ireland. I have a massive interest in currents affairs, politics and social justice. I’m really interested in student perspective, politics and activism, mainly in feminism and gender equality. I believe it is really important for young people and students to get involved in current affairs and politics, it is crucial for us to have a good platform in order to express ourselves.