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Are you SAD? When it’s more than just the “Winter Blues”

 

For many students, adapting to college life – including a new social and academic climate – can prove difficult. And for others, a literal change in climate – weather that is – can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder or what is commonly known as SAD.

Seasonal affective disorder is a depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall or winter and ending in spring or early summer. This mood disorder is often attributed to the lack of light during the colder months of the year.

College students may be more susceptible to SAD due to the amount of stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep they endure each semester. During the shorter, colder days of winter, students spend more time in their rooms, leading to less socialization and increased isolation. This shift in routine can enhance the negative effects of seasonal changes and put students at a higher risk for SAD. The stress of exams and other anxieties associated with college life also influence a student’s susceptibility to SAD.

“SAD is a diagnosable mental health disorder that may require treatment. If a student regularly experiences a significant, lasting, downturn of mood when the weather gets colder and daylight lessens, then they should talk to someone at the health or counseling center to discuss their symptoms,” says Douglas Jacobs, M.D., President and CEO of the nonprofit organization Screening for Mental Health and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Students suffering from mild cases of SAD can benefit from additional exposure to the sun. This can include a long walk outside or arranging a dorm room or apartment so that there is exposure to a window during the day. For those suffering from more severe cases of the condition, light therapy or phototherapy has proven an effective treatment option. This form of therapy involves exposure to very bright light – usually from a special fluorescent lamp – for a few hours each day during the winter months. Additional relief has been found with psychotherapy sessions, and in some cases, prescription of antidepressants.

Between 10 and 20 percent of the U.S. population may suffer from mild symptoms associated with the disorder.

 

Symptoms can include:

  • Excessive sleeping or feelings of extreme fatigue;
  • Overeating and weight gain during the fall or winter;
  • Inability to maintain regular lifestyle schedule;
  • Depression (feelings of sadness, loss of feelings, apathy) and irritability;
  • Lack of interest in social interactions, losing interest in activities of enjoyment;
  • Remission of symptoms in the spring and summer months

 

If you're concerned that you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, please contact us to set up an appointment with a counselor at (860) 832-1945. Do not wait for it to "just go away" -- we offer a listening ear year round.

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