Seasonal Depression Illustration

Winter is just around the corner, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer; this change in weather can take a toll on mental health.

Between 4% and 6% of people in the United States have Seasonal Affective Disorder, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Another 10% to 20% may experience it in a milder form. Some children and teenagers get SAD but it usually doesn’t start in people younger than 20 years of age, putting college students at a high risk of experiencing its effects.

Rosie Pavlovec, junior interior design major, said she has not been diagnosed with SAD but experiences a negative shift in her mood and overall mental health as cold weather begins.

“The winter blues are real,” Pavlovec said.

Pavlovec said her motivation levels go down in the winter, she frequently sleeps in between classes instead of being productive with her free time. The cold weather often makes social interaction sound less than desirable for her.

“I don’t have a man so no one is cuddling me,” Pavlovec said, laughing, “So I end up in my room by myself probably too much.”

Pavlovec talks herself through various anxieties and mental blocks to prevent her from doing tasks in the winter. She meditates and has recently gotten into hot yoga, which she said refreshes her during the cold months.

Pavlovec doesn’t advise relying on self-help if diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“Working out isn’t going to fix it,” Pavlovec said. “Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder should seek help from a therapist.”

Rhonda Lesley, director of MSU counseling, defines Seasonal Affective Disorder as a depressive disorder characterized by symptoms such as a depressed mood, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, fatigue, concentration or motivation problems and insomnia or hypersomnia during the fall or winter months which go away in the spring.

The counseling center provides cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the recommended treatment of choice for depressive disorders. The center also has a SAD light in the “Relaxation Station.”

Light therapy is one way to treat SAD. Exposure to a bright, artificial light that mimics outdoor light affects brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms.

Lesley said maintaining a healthy diet, sleep schedule, exercise regimen and keeping up healthy relationships are good recommendations for any mental health concern.

“One of the most important things for someone who thinks they may have SAD is to receive a proper evaluation from a trained mental health professional before trying to treat symptoms on their own,” Lesley said.

Kylee Evans, senior philosophy major, said her seasonal depression sets in around the beginning of the second semester.

Evans describes herself as a bubbly, exuberant person but notices her mood drastically changes when the cold weather arrives.

Evans said while her depression isn’t totally debilitating, it does have an impact on her day-to-day life. She said she tends to retreat into her home and she skips more classes than in the warmer months.

“Since it’s just a seasonal thing, I tend to come out of it whenever it’s sunny,” Evans said.

Evans said she is very deadline-oriented and finds it helpful to make goals for herself on days where she feels less motivated.

Evans said she thinks many people don’t seek help for Seasonal Affective Disorder because it comes in waves.

She advises against instructing depressed individuals to work out or eat healthy to solve their mental illness.

“Theoretically maybe those solutions could work,” Evans said, “but mustering up the motivation to do those things is often not possible when you’re depressed.”

Evans said she thinks it’s important to allow yourself to feel sad and to not feel guilty about it because it’s a normal feeling.

“It’s OK to be down and lay in bed,” Evans said. “Cuddle with your cats but make sure to keep your friends in the loop so you’re not closing yourself off completely.