The Denisonian will now be publishing weekly, informative mental health columns. These are compiled based on research from the American Psychiatry Organization. While we acknowledge that there is more that needs to be done to address mental health on campus, we at The Denisonian feel as though it is our duty to use our platform to add to the conversation.

As the seasons change, students might start to feel a shift in morale. Days become shorter. Nights become longer. Work becomes more stressful and it becomes harder to focus on the positive. During the winter months, these feelings become very common amongst college students: its known more widely as seasonal depression.

Also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the winter blues, seasonal depression is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter months and going away with the spring and summer. It’s a type of disorder that has a seasonal recurrence. Depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD. According to Mental Health America, this reoccurring disorder affects about 5 percent of the U.S. population in a given year.

How do people become at risk?

There are three other factors that are believed to increase the risk of developing SAD:
Inherent vulnerability – Studies show that SAD runs in families with a history of different types of depression, including SAD.
Light deprivation – Changes in latitude and season resulting in decreased exposure to light can negatively affect mood.
Stress – An increased level of stress is associated with the onset of SAD.
College first-years with a history of problematic seasonal changes are also at a higher risk for developing SAD. The first year of college is full of changes such as environment, lack of familial surroundings and the overall stress of a college workload can start a domino effect of depressive symptoms that may contribute to developing SAD.

The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months can affect an individual’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Lower levels of serotonin have been shown to be linked to depression. Brain scans have shown that people who had seasonal depression in the winter had higher levels of a serotonin transporter protein that removed serotonin than in individuals who did not have seasonal depression.

If someone has SAD, some ways to cope can be to change their environment. Whether it be by surrounding themselves with friends or being alone in a calm and soothing environment to exercising, a slight change can make a big difference.

If you find yourself in a moment of stress or sadness, contact the Whistler Center for Student Wellness at 740-587-6200 to make regular, non-emergency medical or behavioral health appointments. If there is a more urgent need for help, go to Whistler’s walk-in hours from 11:30-12:30 p.m. each weekday.