Seasonal Depression Creeps in as Cold Months Begin


The Salt Lake City downtown looking so dreamy during a snowstorm while winter inversion lingers over the Oquirrh Mountain Range on Feb. 20, 2018. (Photo by Abu Asib | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Jacob Freeman, News Writer


For many students, mental health is at the top of their minds going into the holiday season. With days getting shorter, temperatures dropping and finals looming, about 5% of adults in the U.S. experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called seasonal depression.

SAD, which is most common in young adults, is the term used to describe a type of depression that’s annually triggered by a change in seasons, most commonly when fall starts, before getting worse throughout the winter season.

SAD is three times more likely to affect women than men. Marian University notes that, in general, college students can be especially vulnerable to the disorder due to “the natural stressors associated with college life,” as well as a common “lifestyle of staying up late and getting up late” that prevents them from getting needed exposure to light.

“I think students have unique stressors that make them more susceptible to depressive illness for sure,” said Jason Hunziker, a psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute at the University of Utah. “Being away from family and friends, the stress of school and finals. … And if it’s your first semester in college, that adds another layer.”

SAD can manifest in many different ways and affects everyone differently, Hunziker explained.

“It can affect everything,” Hunziker said. “It can make you more anxious, it can make you more angry, it can make you more sad.”

Since seasonal depression tends to affect people around the same time every year, Hunziker said those affected can potentially predict that it’s going to happen, and hopefully take steps to mitigate it more quickly.

Hunziker said that first and foremost, it’s important to contact your medical provider when experiencing symptoms of depression, like feeling sad most days, isolating more, or changes in weight or appetite. However, there are also steps that people can take themselves to help alleviate seasonal affective disorder.

“If you feel the depression is there, you need to get in and get some treatment, because we want to make sure it doesn’t advance,” Hunziker said. “Make sure you’re sleeping well, get on a schedule so that you’re going to bed and getting up every day at the same time. Make sure you’re eating well.”

Hunziker also said social interaction is important for mental health, as well as going outside and staying active.

“Exercise is almost as effective as antidepressants in treating depression in [college students],” Hunziker said. “I know it’s cold, but getting outside, getting in the sun even for 15 or 20 minutes can go a long way in helping you.”

Advice from U Health on how to alleviate SAD symptoms also includes getting more light, taking vitamins, starting a new hobby and staying away from harmful triggers.

Hunziker urged students who are feeling suicidal or depressed to use the SafeUT app, a free, 24/7 crisis line that connects students with counselors.

“You don’t have to wait to talk to us, you can just download and text immediately and you get to talk with a licensed counselor,” Dénia-Marie Ollerton said. She is the program manager for SafeUT.

Aside from crisis intervention, clinicians at SafeUT can assist students in seeking long-term treatment that suits their needs, Ollerton said.

“If they don’t have insurance we can help them find people that are low cost or free,” Ollerton said. “We can direct them to some of those services they might not be aware of in their community.”

Ollerton said a 24/7 mobile service like the SafeUT app breaks some of the barriers that might stop someone from seeking treatment.

“It’s so much more convenient to have help in the palm of your hand,” Ollerton said. “It preserves confidentiality too.”

Ollerton added it’s never too early to seek help and download the SafeUT app, even if you aren’t feeling depressed now.

“You never know when you’re going to need it,” Ollerton said. “Maybe you never need it, but when your roommate or your family member is struggling, you can say ‘hey, here’s this app.’ It’s free and it’s confidential, and there’s really no strings attached.”


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