Seasonal Affective Disorder in a Fargo Winter

An Insiders Perspective on the Outside

Coming from a state like North Dakota, you have some bragging rights when it comes to being used to winter weather. There may be risks, which come in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. This is a disorder that is known to start in late fall and last throughout the winter months. 

According to, some symptoms of SAD are thoughts of death, anxiety, sleeping problems, feeling irritated or agitated, extreme fatigue, social withdrawal from activities etc. SAD is more common among younger people and women, but can also worsen with age. It doesn’t stop there as it can have an effect in more complex ways. 

SAD affects the brain with a chemical imbalance where the lack of sunlight exposure can throw off your circadian rhythm. This is where the human brain may produce a lot of the sleep hormone, melatonin, and less serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ chemical. The differences in how it may affect a certain group of people, maybe something to consider. 

With regards to The National Library of Medicine, there was a Seasonal Patterns Assessment Questionnaire (SPAQ) study in December of 2021 that ranked students from more tropical states that would move away to colleges in much colder states. 

Interestingly enough the students from nonseasonal states, had a 1.6 greater chance of a high SPAQ score than ones that were already in colder climates. But just like those who move in for things like cheaper education, for example, there are also those, like myself, who are working to get out of North Dakota for reasons like these. 

Even though there are adventurous people moving to places like Fargo, there are a lot of people wanting out. As a student who has not only been brought up in this frozen icebox but has also seen the urban medical vs rural medical side of the state.

The state is classified as one of the most overmedicated states in the union according to As a student with what is perceived as a mental disorder, where I come from in the central part of the state, I felt that there would also be random diagnoses handed out and some like myself are often misdiagnosed.  

There was this pill I’d be on forever called risperidone, which has quite a few very negative side effects such as headaches, leaking breast milk, or even feeling dizzy according to I’d often describe this pill as something you throw on the ground and step on it and what you’d see is all that it is. All this to say, it was not a good fit for me. 

The dark often feel synonymous with loneliness. Photo Credit | Abigail Faulkner

These pills would also be used on me to cope with the health effects related to SAD like depression related to loneliness. They would be used as a way to mask the problem and not overcome it from the source. I’d often get told to take these drugs. I often felt like they were kind of used as a weapon against me.

The state isn’t terrible, but it’s not the greatest either compared to other states as it’s 27th in the country for all things mental health according to 

As a student who has come from a background where my neurodivergence is just the icing on the cake, I also know what it’s like being isolated from everything and feeling like you’re the only one who can comprehend your surrounding experiences or alone in those experiences.  

I can say a place like Fargo, or North Dakota in general is a place you don’t want to feel marginalized from or fall under the radar. It can make you feel singled out or excluded. 

It is generally worse if there is any major depressive disorder involved, as that stuff gets wildly misunderstood the more different the way you interact etc. According to Seasonal Affective Disorder itself is a subtype of Major Depressive Disorder that is influenced by the Environment. 

Major Depressive Disorder also has some other causes besides environmental. With, some other causes can be stressful life events, childhood trauma, and medication to name a few. Each of these could have a decent amount of components to them. 

With life events, there are things like money, poverty, isolation, lots of uncertainty, job availability, racism, and even the holidays. So one could only imagine enduring all this when having symptoms related to SAD as well. 

But, where there is a will there is a way in finding what works to prevent the dangers of SAD from getting you down. Social activities may vary depending on your status, where you’re known, where you might feel appreciated etc. I don’t know about Fargo itself, but the whole state itself is one of the worst places in the country for singles according to  

I have discovered this a lot with regard to Facebook, where I’d keep discovering that eventually, someone is going to get engaged, even when you least expect them to. Enjoying exciting social activities is generally one of the few known ways to cope with SAD, as it could open doors to new experiences. 

What may make this even more stressful is the crazy wind on some of the winter days, where outside ends up being very painful with it getting colder than it already is. 

Being outside normally is a good way to help cope with SAD by getting vitamin D from the sun, but that itself can be hard when sitting inside due to icy weather. Diseases like osteoporosis are something that can happen with inefficient vitamin D levels, that itself is something that can make all this worse. 

Even though I haven’t been diagnosed with SAD, I have felt some of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder multiple times when feeling stuck in situations where I’ve felt lonely. 

These situations included others being intimidated by me, not understanding me, having to fight for myself in conditions like the system trying to restrict me from as much as possible, etc. Things like this could even make the effect of SAD much worse not just for me, but for anyone. 

My mental health would be a lot worse if I never put up the fight that I had because then I’d feel stuck with nothing to look forward to. I have often felt stuck in the midwest and I am here because people have tried to lead me to believe there are not a lot of options elsewhere. However, I had created opportunities where there may have not been one before. I didn’t have the freedom to make a lot of my own decisions and I had to make the most of what I had. 

We all may have different experiences with things like SAD. But the best thing about environments like NDSU is that there are opportunities for a student to get involved to experience some awesome stuff. While good campus events don’t cure SAD, they still can be a good reminder that there are good things in this life, things you can look forward to.

Some of my positive experiences are being affiliated with the program I’m in, along with the clubs I have been involved with like BA (Bison Ambassadors). With BA, it is more than biweekly meetings. It is a professional organization on campus where you get points for attending, even for a retreat we did at Itasca State Park in Minnesota.  

With that, there are opportunities to gain skills, like being a social media coordinator for BA. This club is a good source like many things on campus, to put on a resume and make a name for yourself. 

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