What to do when you have the winter blues
Local therapists say seasonal affective disorder can affect college students and their mental health.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is classified as a recurrent major depressive disorder, according to Psychology Today. It is a disorder commonly observed during the winter months, and in climates that have darker days and longer winters.
Cristine Price, a counselor for Family Solutions Counseling in Logan, said SAD is a persistent disorder and mainly affects those who are already susceptible to depression.
“It is much easier for this disorder to affect those who already struggle with feelings of hopelessness,” Price said.
SAD is no different from other disorders in that it requires a “trigger episode,” according to Anna Whisler, the program director for Family Solutions Counseling.
“After the trigger episode, people may feel worthless, guilty, have a lack of motivation, and isolate themselves,” Whisler said.
Whisler says the change in seasons becomes the “trigger episode,” causing a serotonin imbalance due to the lack of sunlight. The lower amounts of serotonin then increase a person’s likelihood of being depressed.
In addition to its symptoms, SAD can also have a negative impact on daily life.
“It can make wanting to get up and go to class extremely difficult,”Whisler said, “People tend to feel like a burden.”
Price, says this is one of the worst parts.
“People tend to ask themselves, is my state a burden on others?” Price said.
According to Psychology Today, SAD can affect sleep patterns as well as cause weight gain and fatigue. While it is common for more individuals to have symptoms of depression during the winter months, both Whisler and Price say that it is not something to be ignored.
“If you have more days than not where you feel down and hopeless, you should seek help,” Whisler said. “This disorder can wreak havoc on your life in a short period of time. People can lose jobs or relationships.”
If detected early on, people can be prepared for the hormonal changes associated with SAD. Whisler says that working with therapists in the fall and making a game plan can be beneficial.
“Be prepared, think, what didn’t work last winter?” Whisler said. “If you love running outdoors, how can you do it indoors?”
According to Price, having a positive mindset will also go a long way towards recovery. Price has written a book called “The Gift of Gratitude,” where she details her own struggles surrounding college, depression and SAD.
“Training my mind to be in a state of gratitude gave me relief from depression,” Price said.
Vitamin D supplements and light therapy are also options to deal with the negative effects of SAD.
When asked what advice they would give to college students, both therapists said they wanted to offer words of encouragement.
“A lot of people experience this disorder, especially students new to the area,” Whisler said. “Students that come from out of town are usually not prepared for Logan winters. This can be a shock to the system.”
“When students struggle, they need to understand that it’s not them, it’s the climate,” Price said.“There needs to be more support on campus so that students do not struggle.”
Whisler said she wants students to know that they do not have to be alone.
“There are a lot of resources to help you, this is not something you have to go through by yourself, “ she said.
Students who are struggling with symptoms of SAD or other depressive disorders can contact Counseling and Psychological Services in the Taggart Student Center on campus. Family Solutions also has a blog post to help students better understand SAD.