Between December and February, an increased number of students may experience symptoms of depression due to the winter season, a phenomenon known as seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was defined by Psychology Today as a form of depression in which people experience depressive episodes during specific times of the year. The most common type of SAD occurs during the winter months, but a rare amount of people experience it in the summer.
According to Sherry Pollard, assistant director of the counseling center and professor of marriage and family therapy, depressive symptoms must recur over multiple years to be SAD.
“It is not diagnosed if you’ve just had one winter where you’ve felt really yucky, but it has to be at least two or more — a pattern,” Pollard said.
Around 10 million Americans are affected by SAD, according to Psychology Today. Another 10 to 20 percent have experienced mild SAD.
Pollard described the symptoms to be the same as other forms of depression including hopelessness, sadness, changes in appetite and an abnormal sleep schedule. The type of depression is affected most by sunlight.
“One of [the] things that is really helpful is to get outside during 12 to 2 o’clock in the day even if it is really cold,” Pollard said. “You really need to get that solar power into your eyes, not staring into the sun obviously, but you need to be around that natural light.”
Light therapy lamps, according to Pollard, are one thing that could help someone combat SAD symptoms if they are not able to get enough light from the sun. They are designed to provide a synthetic way to receive light that is similar to the sun.
“If you sit, like studying, between like 11 and 2 during the day, if you just make a point of sitting near that lamp, you’re going to get rays that are more like if you’re sitting outside in the sun … just getting that natural light,” Pollard said.
If someone has a friend with these symptoms, the best thing to do for them, according to Keslee Dunavin, graduate clinical mental health counseling student, is to first let them know that this is an actual disorder and it can be treated. Second, they should remember that being a friend during those hard months is important.
“It is important to be aware of the reason for a friend’s changing behaviors,” Dunavin said. “The best way to approach that change is with grace and love.”
While some Harding students experience joy from the holidays, Christmas lights, school breaks and snow, others will struggle with SAD this winter.