Options for students dealing with SAD

Luke Taylor, Associate News Editor

Seasonal depression, known professionally as seasonal affective disorder, is a mental condition that can be particularly devastating to college students.

SAD affects around five percent of Americans each year, and the onset usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 30 years old, according to Mental Health America.

It’s also affected by geographic location. The farther away a location is from the equator, the less sunlight it gets during the winter months, which can cause more cases or more serious symptoms.

SAD has many of the same symptoms as standard clinical depression: loss of interest in things the patient typically enjoys, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating and even thoughts of suicide.

The symptoms that doctors usually use to diagnose fall and winter SAD include oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain and tiredness, which are often attributed to the nebulous “winter blues.”

For those who already deal with mental illness, SAD can increase symptoms.

In some cases of bipolar disorder, the summer months can bring on symptoms of mania, while the winter months can be a time of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Mental health professionals recommend finding someone to talk to about any of those feelings, even if they seem minor or unimportant.

Fortunately, there are several different treatment options for SAD.

The most standard choice to treat mental illness is talk therapy; that’s the kind of therapy where you sit with your psychologist, psychiatrist, or trained therapist and discuss how you’ve been feeling, how to deal with it, and what might be causing those feelings.

For students at Eastern, there are multiple ways to go about participating in talk therapy.

The EIU Counseling Clinic’s goal is to help enhance psychological and emotional wellbeing of students.

Usually, counseling sessions would be held in person, but they have been changed to virtual sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first counseling meeting is always an opportunity to meet your counselor and discuss what you need and want to get from your sessions. In the occasional case that your needs cannot be served by the on-campus counselors, they can help refer you to someone who is equipped to help.

Typical sessions are around 45 minutes long, and can occur on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis depending on the needs and schedule of the student. These meetings are completely confidential; counselors can’t legally share anything you tell them without your consent.

Another option for students is group counseling. These sessions are still confidential, as all attendees have to sign an agreement to adhere to confidentiality rules.

Group sessions often focus on an issue that everyone in the group shares, but they’re in a more conversational tone than one-on-one sessions. This way, you can talk about what you’re dealing with in an open, respectful environment, and find others who connect and relate to you.

While those are the only resources that are offered on campus, there are other kinds of treatment for SAD.

Light therapy is a treatment method which involves sitting in front of a light box that emits a bright light but filters out harmful ultraviolet waves. This usually involves daily sessions of around 20 minutes of light exposure. Just getting more light exposure can seriously reduce symptoms of SAD.

Alternatively, doctors suggest simply going outside in the sunlight for longer than usual. If you go with this option, sunscreen is important to protect your skin from UV rays.

Due to the cold, working near windows that let in a lot of sunlight can be a great alternative to spending as much time outside.


Luke Taylor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]