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Winter is coming: Managing seasonal depression

You are not alone if this recent change in weather has made you feel sluggish and melancholy. More than three million people yearly are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or commonly referred to as seasonal depression, the MayoClinic reports. Seasonal depression includes “depression that’s related to changes in seasons.” These symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.

While seasonal depression affects a vast majority of the United States, it can be most commonly observed in college students. Judith Akin, a psychiatrist at Vanderbilt Medical Center, describes that “SAD is most likely to appear in the late teens or early twenties and is most prevalent among women.” Furthermore, The National Institute of Mental Health found in a 2011 nationwide survey that 30% of college students reported feeling “so depressed it was difficult to function.”

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder range from:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy

According to Ranna Parekh from the American Psychiatric Association, your biological clock, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels are all factors that contribute to SAD. “The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression,” Parekh said. “Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. The changes in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.”

While there are several ways of self-treatment for (SAD), many professionals advise talking to a licensed therapist. Mills College offers an abundance of resources for students suffering from SAD. Counseling & Psychological Services, also known as CAPS, can “offer confidential counseling, psycho-education, and outreach, crisis intervention.” These counseling services can help students manage seasonal depression, such as one on one appointments with a counselor. To make an appointment students can ask the front desk for assistance or call ahead. CAPS is located in the Cowell Building and is open from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If unable to get professional help, The American Psychiatric Association recommends “an increased exposure to sunlight can help improve symptoms,” as well as “taking care of your general health and wellness can also help—regular exercise, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and staying active and connected (such as volunteering, participating in group activities and getting together with friends and family) can help.” In general, increasing blood circulation and receiving a good night’s rest helps the body manage symptoms of SAD.

All things considered, Seasonal Affective Disorder halts daily life for more than three million people yearly, and if you are affected by SAD Counseling & Psychological Services in Cowell is there to help. Similarly to clinical depression, it is easy to brush off as unimportant but if left untreated it can lead to a constant state of misery. CAPS is a resource open to all Mills students. Counseling & Psychological Services can be reached by phone 510.430.2111 and