This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
For most, winter is an annoyance. Despite the particularly brutal weather the northeastern United States has been experiencing lately, it's still just a four-month period spent worrying about how sweaty your thighs are going to get if you wear long-johns on the subway.
For some, however, the change of season signals the beginning of a seemingly inescapable black hole—a sudden downturn in mood and mindset. This condition is known as seasonal affective disorder, or "SAD"—a form of depression that tends to affect sufferers on a seasonal basis. "Generally speaking, it occurs in winter," says Sam Challis from Mind, a leading British mental health charity. "However, some individuals do find themselves feeling the same symptoms over the summer period."
Like many matters of the mind, the exact causes of SAD are somewhat unclear and difficult to prove. "One theory is that light stimulates the parts of the brain that control mood, appetite, and sleep, so therefore the absence of light has a massive impact," Sam explains. "Similarly, some suggest that the brain associates darkness with sleep. As our modern lives don't allow us to change our waking hours to match the sun, some people experience SAD symptoms when there's a mismatch between the hours they keep and the hours of daylight."
These symptoms, Sam explains, include "feeling lethargic, generally 'down,' having a decreased interest in sex and relationships, and may [involve the sufferer finding it] difficult to concentrate."
The promo video for Studio C&C's SAD exhibition at Protein Studios. Directed and filmed by Olivia Pringle and Oskar Proctor with Studio C&C
Inspired to create a "haven from SAD," Studio C&C —a South London creative studio—is staging an exhibition intended as an "over the top escapism event."
The show, which starts this Thursday at Shoreditch's Protein Studios, is centered around a large-format publication featuring the vivid, hyper-fluorescent work of more than 30 emerging artists. The book, according to Alex from Studio C&C, will "hopefully sit on the reader's shelf and be brought out in the depths of January and February, ideally to serve as a form of help or therapy for sufferers."
The publication, available for purchase at the exhibition, opens with a very tangible example of this idea: a sheet of acid-blotter paper containing a three-month supply of vitamin D tabs, designed by artist Callum Copley. Researchers have associated a vitamin D deficiency with a greater risk of SAD, so, the theory goes, get some extra vitamin D in you and minimize that risk.
"We receive the majority of our vitamin D intake from exposure to sunlight, meaning it's something we miss out on in the winter," says Alex. "So that particular piece is designed to make the reader feel upbeat."
Although the book is key to the exhibition and something the group has been working on for over a year, the gallery space will also feature a number of other artworks, all of which share the same common intention: to "create a space for people as a kind of refuge from SAD—a sanctuary; hopefully somewhere that feels a million miles from London in the middle of February."
The motivations behind the project are fairly direct: "Every artist in the book relates to SAD in some form or another—some of them quite severely, some less so. That's organically created quite a range in the book: some of the contributors may have been using their artwork as a coping mechanism, as an exercise to help them manage their feelings. Whereas other people's works are just supposed to be cheerful for the reader."
Neina, a marketing administrator who also works with SADA (Seasonal Affective Disorder Association) on their media and communications, tells me about her experience of first being diagnosed with the condition: "There's quite often a trigger with SAD. For me, unfortunately a friend died just before the millennium, which sent me into a bit of a depressive state, and I think the seasonal affective disorder kind of continued from there," she recalls. "But it wasn't until 2003 that I was actually diagnosed by a doctor."
Neina explains to me how SAD made her feel at her lowest points: "I just really couldn't get out of bed. And I don't mean just not wanting to get out bed; I mean really not having the energy to get out of bed," she says. "I just wanted to fall asleep the whole time. The best way I can describe it is like you just want to hibernate, like you don't want to engage with people."
Over the years, however, Neina has managed to take some control of the condition, explaining that two products in particular have changed her life. "I have a light box, which is basically a bright light that simulates the kind of light you'd get on a bright summer's day," she tells me. "I also have a dawn simulator, which does what it says on the tin: it wakes you up gently by simulating sunrise."
Neina, who describes herself as an "ambassador for the disorder," is glad to see that the Studio C&C exhibition is taking place, as any event to promote a better understanding of SAD can only be a positive thing. "I've had people take the mickey out of me at different places, and people say that SAD doesn't exist," says Neina. "However, I'd challenge this: It has been classed as a medical condition and is recognized by medical councils."
And Neina's right—SAD isn't a punchline or a matter to be taken lightly; it's a legitimate form of depression and deserves all the attention it can get. So if you feel down this winter, tell someone about it. And if you're told about it, listen.
Studio C&C's SAD exhibition runs from February 19 until February 22 at Protein Studios, Shoreditch.
To get on the guest list for the opening night of the exhibition (which includes some free cocktails), send your name to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full list of artists involved are: Jonah Ainslie, Ellie Andrews, Adam Bletchly, Elizabeth Bradley, Laura Callaghan, Callum Copley, Orron Fearon, Will Gates, Goodchild, Eliot Haworth, Jamie Julien Brown, Joseph P Kelly, Jason Kerley, Tessa Lawer, Chris Mackenzie-Gray, Charlotte Maeva-Perret, Alex McCullough, Ludo O'Grady, Andrew Osman, Joseph Pleass, Sean Preston, Oskar Proctor, Jamie Roberts, William Rowe, Lawrence Slater, Thomas Slater, Donal Sturt, Jack Taylor, Sean Thomas, Andrew Thorpe, Marc Torrent, Cei Willis and Jay Wright.
Mind is a leading mental health charity in England and Wales, providing advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. The charity has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open from 9AM to 6PM, Monday to Friday).