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Home News Is Winter Over Yet?: Seasonal Affective Disorder and College Students

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not uncommon during the winter months. Photo by Sonja Brandt.

by Benjamin Gordon

Students who feel consistently unhappy during the winter months may be experiencing a mood disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), around 20 percent of people report having a mild form of SAD while another six percent report having more severe depression.

SAD is a disorder that causes a person to fall into depression or to experience behavioral changes during winter months. It occurs every year starting and finishing around the same time.

The Mayo Clinic says that the reduced sunlight of the winter months plays a role in throwing off the body’s circadian rhythm as well as causing a reduction in the body’s neural transmitter, serotonin. These effects both cause depression in the patient while they occur.

SAD generally begins in late fall and ends in summer, but this varies from person to person according to the AAFP. It is also important to note that simply being sad one day during the winter does not necessarily indicate a person has the condition.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some symptoms of SAD include depression almost every day, disrupted sleep cycle, weight changes, or difficulty concentrating.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek help from a qualified medical professional.

According to the AAFP, the farther north people go, the more SAD can affect them. This is due to the reduced light levels during the winter the farther north someone goes.

Some students experience SAD for the first time when moving to a northern state or country for college.

A study by Bates College in Maine explains that students simply going from southern to northern parts of New England to attend college have a much higher chance of getting SAD. This is a potential problem for Concordia students who come from states like Texas and California.

College students are especially susceptible to SAD with around 35 percent reporting some kind of depression, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine.

In his blog, Dr. Norman Rosenthal says that college students who suffer from SAD can fall behind on both school work and sleep if the condition is not handled.

Cornell College suggests buying brighter light bulbs, exercising and wearing bright colors for those who are simply unhappy. After seeing a medical professional, people with SAD should not oversleep and should manage stress and exercise.

“Counseling, medication or a combination of both could be helpful for students,” Campus Nurse Andreea Baker said.

Concordia students can take advantage of the health services offered on campus. Counselor Cara Kroeker is available in the Counseling and Behavioral Health Center.  

“Students are welcome to make an appointment to see the doctor here on campus if they have questions about symptoms that may indicate depression,” Baker said.

Baker went on to say that students can have a depression screening and a physical exam, then a doctor will make a decision on what to do next. Baker also encourages students to see their own doctors if they feel depressed.

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