The last leaves of fall continue to drop onto the streets, signaling the need to dig out hats, gloves and winter coats from storage in preparation for the freezing cold days of winter that lie ahead.
For many University students, it also means less productive days and increase in time spent on the couch.
“I get a lot more tired, and I get crankier,” said Nursing sophomore Ericka Gess. “I don”t want to do anything. I just want to stay inside. My class attendance drops about 50 percent.”
LSA freshman Nick Rutledge agreed.
“When you go outside and your face hurts from the cold, you dread walking outside to go to class,” he said.
Rutledge also said that earlier sunsets cause him to get less work done in the evening.
The seasonal mood change experienced by many students resembles a much more serious condition known as seasonal affective disorder, a specific type of depression.
“People who just seem occasionally low or depressed do not really have seasonal affective disorder,” said Ziad Keonfol, the Medical School”s director of psychiatry . “It affects function and shows a physical change in appetite, weight, sleep, energy and motivation for weeks or even months.”
The condition appears at a particular time of year, typically during the winter when the amount of daylight decreases, and shows full remission or change during other seasons.
“It can occur at any age and normally affects more women,” Keonfol said, adding that latitude and age also play factors in the onset of the disorder. “I know that students have a lot of stressors going on, and people sometimes get depressed. If a student is unable to function and enjoy pleasurable activities, they need to see a clinician.”
Professionals at Counseling and Psychological Services regard the various forms of depression, including SAD, as one of their top three concerns along with anxiety and relationship conflicts.
Although CAPS clinical director Jim Etzkorn did not know the number of students on campus who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, he said, “My guess is that we do see an increase in depressive symptoms during the winter. (The weather) is compounded by the fact that people are in the midst of school work and overwhelmed with the stresses of school.”
Etzkorn added that there is a question whether people change their mood in the spring because of weather and an increase in sunlight or because it is the end of the school year.
To help students avoid the winter slum, Etzkorn said, “Try to find something about winter that you enjoy. The people who see winter as a time that offers a change to be outside sledding, skiing or whatever are better off than people who hate it and spend all of their time indoors.
“Sunlight is important. Arrange your schedule to be near a window and sunlight by not scheduling free time during the dark. Even on a cloudy day, being exposed to sunlight would be better than being buried in a classroom,” he said.
For this reason, many clinicians use light therapy to treat people with SAD, along with an examination of stressors in the person”s life and distortion that make life unnecessarily difficult.
“They make these special light boxes, and the client is directed to sit in front of the box for a certain amount of time each day,” Etzkorn said. “We don”t have one here, but maybe they do at the hospital.”
Etzkorn also said meditation, good eating, sleep and exercise can help people pull through their depression.
“If you”re feeling better about yourself, it is likely that you will be less vulnerable to the effect of the weather,” he said.