Seasonal affective disorder plagues students

By Melissa Silverberg

With all the papers and tests to deal with in the days before Thanksgiving break, students may not have noticed an important absence in their daily lives – the sun.

Between the end of Daylight Savings Time and days of overcast weather, the dreary outlook may be affecting students’ moods.

“It’s not so much the weather. It’s just that it gets dark so fast,” said Rachel Beckett, senior in LAS. “You feel like your day is over and you feel less energetic.”

Although many students could be feeling down about the change in seasons, some may be suffering from a more serious disorder this winter, seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder, clinically known as a seasonal pattern form of major depression disorder, most commonly occurs during winter months, said University psychology professor Gregory Miller.

Winter depression has many of the typical signs of regular depression, but to be diagnosed as a seasonal pattern someone must exhibit feelings of sadness for long periods of time – for example, feeling depressed for two weeks at a time during consecutive winter seasons.

Some other symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, and depression in general, can include losing or gaining weight, low self-esteem or a depressed mood almost every day for at least two weeks.

There is speculation that since daylight is a time keeper for people’s biology, fewer hours of sunshine may throw off that biology.

However, Miller said psychologists do not yet know how the change in biology causes depression during winter months, or why.

There are various psychotherapy and drug therapy treatments, which Miller said can be helpful but not in all instances.

“It’s not like fixing a flat tire,” Miller said. “You can’t be sure it’s going to work or how fast it’s going to work.”

Miller said students should be skeptical of the myth that going tanning will relieve them of their winter blues. Although there has been research that exposure to bright lights can be help ease seasonal affective disorder, tanning lights do not give off the correct frequencies of light and are dangerous in their own right.

The University’s Counseling Center does not have a lighting room, another common treatment for seasonal affective disorder, but they do see students with concerns about depression or other mental health issues, said Deidre Weathersby, clinical counselor and outreach services coordinator.

Weathersby added that the center does not track the number of students coming in by month or weather, but that it has seen an increase in students overall.

“People are recognizing mental health symptoms more and there are more students here,” Weathersby said. “Students are also coming in already aware of mental health concerns they’ve had in the past.”

If students believe they are experiencing prolonged feelings of sadness or depression, MIller said it is important to let someone know and get help if needed.