Winter blues: struggling with seasonal depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes referred to as seasonal depression, is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a type of depression related to the changing seasons, one of the most common times being in winter. January is even home to the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday, which is January 16.

South Dakota State University Counseling Services sees about 500 more appointments in the spring semester than in the fall. During the 2015-2016 school year they saw 1,365 student appointments in the fall and 1,865 in the spring, according to Darci Nichols, assistant director for Wellness Center Counseling. They expect to see similar numbers this school year.

Students struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder may have trouble re-adjusting to campus life, dealing with the dreary weather and other stresses.

“Seasonal depression is caused by lack of sunshine, and winters are rough. People aren’t as active and are being cooped up in residence halls,” Nichols said.

Students who are living in the residence halls may find it easy to stay indoors and avoid the cold weather. This can cause students to become irritable and restless, which may lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“Mental health is a state of well-being. Positive thinking can be very beneficial,” said Andrea Bjornestad, assistant professor for Counseling and Human Development.

Counseling services offers many different types of services, such as having a consultation or bringing a friend to your session. The stigmas surrounding counseling may be keeping students suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder from getting help, according to Nichols. As a result, she said counseling services is trying to be less clinically intimidating and trying to build relationships.

“What is holding you back from getting counseling?” Nichols said. “Always ask for help when needed.”

If students don’t feel comfortable going to counseling services, other resources include Residence Hall directors or Community Assistants. They can also help if students need ideas on what to do on or near campus.

Larson Ice Center offers open skate many days of the week for a minimal price, movies play every night at Brookings Cinema 8 and there are usually campus events or club meetings available to attend.

Nichols said getting involved in a student organization can provide students with a social atmosphere with additional responsibilities to stay busy, like weekly meetings or club tasks.

According to Nichols, thinking of upcoming events to look forward to, like Spring Break, can also help improve a student’s mood or depressive state.

“Seasonal depression can make you want to sleep all the time. Make yourself get out, even if it’s hard,” Nichols said.

Staying active can mean attending the gym or  walking around campus. Having physical activity can boost a person’s mood and relieve stress, according to Alexa Suarez, Wellness Center staff member. Students who work out a few times a week can experience lower stress levels, and often feel much better after a workout, Suarez said.

Students struggling with seasonal depression may want to consider group fitness at the Wellness Center, although this is an extra cost to students.

“Group fitness can help you not feel alone in the workout, and you’re not going to be sitting at home alone,” Suarez said.

Plugging into campus and the community can also help alleviate a depressive state. “Plan activities, look at campus calendars for other events, or go to the Wellness Center,” Nichols said.