By Betsy Baertlein
Finally, the days are getting longer and students are coming out from hibernation in their dorms to be seen around campus. It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago everything was covered in a couple feet of snow. It is apparent from the general morale of campus that spring has sprung. Some would call this spring fever; others would say that it’s the end of cabin fever. But for some, spring may mean more than sun and snowmelt. For those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the beginnings of spring may mean an end to a winter’s struggle with depression-like symptoms.
SAD, a mood disorder, usually sets in late fall or early winter and includes symptoms such as fatigue, trouble getting out of bed, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, loss of interest, irritability, inability to complete tasks and trouble concentrating. As can be imagined, these symptoms can wreak havoc on all aspects of a student’s life. SAD symptoms are similar to those of other mood disorders such as clinical depression, dysthymia and bipolar disorder.
For this reason, SAD is usually identified after an individual has been struggling through the fall and winter for a period of years. Unlike other similar mood disorders, SAD is proven to be connected to the amount of light one receives. Women in their 20s to 40s are especially vulnerable to SAD, and the disease also shows a strong genetic correlation.
Ann Gibson, director of Saint Mary’s University counseling services, says she sees about five students each year who exhibit symptoms of SAD. An absolute diagnosis is difficult to make, as the symptoms are so similar to those of other mood disorders, which affect 40 to 50 students each year at SMU. Gibson said that she tries to eliminate other lifestyle factors that may be causing the symptoms before diagnosing. The counseling center usually recommends that students experiencing SAD symptoms try non-drug treatment methods before resorting to antidepressants. Some methods include exercise, going outdoors and scheduling time for social activities.
Those with SAD may also try sitting in front of a light box, available at counseling services, for 30 to 60 minutes each day. These boxes use florescent bulbs to imitate natural sunlight and can help people with SAD feel more upbeat. The counseling center always “respects peoples’ rights to make decisions about their treatment,” said Gibson.
Although the sun is here for now, students who suspect that they may have SAD and would like to speak with a counselor can make an appointment with counseling services. Gibson assures students that they “don’t have to be afraid; counseling is a wellness thing to do, and the agenda is yours.”