College experts give advice to identify and fight the illness
As New England areas face seasonal changes in a Northern climate, those living in the area may also be at a greater risk of developing Seasonal Depression. The disorder, which is usually seen to increase each year in early October or November and decrease by April or May, is also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Causes of the disorder may include physical changes relating to a change in sun exposure, such as a drop in serotonin levels or changes in melatonin levels, according to MayoClinic.org. The National Library of Medicine noted that common symptoms may include hopelessness, fatigue, change in appetite, increased sleep, weight changes and social withdrawal.
Keene State College student Gregory Chames, who was diagnosed with SAD during his sophomore year of college, explained, “It’s almost like your day is determined by the weather.” Chames noted that when the weather was rainy, he could expect to be unpleasant to everyone, “And when it’s really sunny, it’s like you and the climate are in agreement.”
Chames explained, “The trouble is—it’s hard to get out of bed. Once I’m out of bed, then I’m little more okay. I need to not wear sweatpants. I need to eat healthy. …I tend to do alright.” Chames added, “It [SAD] can be a real pain in the butt, because we live in New Hampshire.” Chames added, “If I lived in California, or the Bahamas, then maybe all that sun would make me overall a cheerier person.”
Assistant Director of the Counseling Center at KSC, Ramona Anderson, defined SAD as “a subset of depression in which there is a marked change in mood that comes with the seasons.”
Anderson also added that SAD can occur in summer months depending on a person’s diagnoses. Anderson indicated that more people may experience seasonally affective changes in the northern climates because of the weather, seasonal and sun exposure changes.
Chames, who had also previously been diagnosed with depression, added, “If everything’s going great, you still have depression. It doesn’t go away. In the same way, if something bad happens to you, you get over it…. For me, it’s the weather in the season, but it’s not like anything personally bad has to happen to me.”
Manager of Environmental Health and Safety at KSC, Sylvie Rice, who coordinates the Health and Safety Newsletters published for the KSC campus, explained that each newsletter, created mainly by her safety students, is meant to bring attention to various health and safety concerns that interest the campus. Along with many other safety concern articles, one newsletter published in December 2012 included a description of Seasonal Depression.
Rice noted that she has personally not been diagnosed with SAD, but was recently diagnosed with low Vitamin D levels in the past year. Rice shared that she thinks her levels may be related to her own seasonal lows, as vitamin D is linked with sun exposure. Rice noted, “Usually by the end of February, I’m feeling kinda low….I’m sort of hoping that maybe this year, if I get my Vitamin D levels up, that I might not have that symptom anymore.”
The Coordinator of Wellness Education at KSC, Tiffany Mathews, explained, “Sometimes you just kind of feel down or low energy, but if a student were to feel that way for days at a time, then they need to go to get help from the Center of Health and Wellness or the Counseling Center.”
Anderson stated, “I think most people are going to experience some changes with the weather and with the sun….So, it’s important to not assume that something is a seasonal depression, but rather go to a professional and find out.” Anderson also shared that, “As human beings, our minds and our bodies and our spirits are complex and intertwined. So, when we have any type of depression, we are going to have physical affects of that depression.” Anderson added, “The medical side needs to be attended to for the physical side effects, as well as the emotional aspects.”
According to Anderson, Seasonal Depression is often diagnosed after different patterns, lasting for at least two years, become evident to a patient. These patterns may involve different symptoms, such as the “low” feeling or excessive weight gain. Chames said, “I didn’t even know I had it. But then once the psychiatrist looks at you, you’re like ‘Oh, that makes sense.’”
“It was definitely not the first time I had it,” Chames explained about his diagnosis. Chames added that since being diagnosed, “I take medication now. And being aware of it [his diagnoses], doing the research and reading up on it definitely teaches you how to sort of live with it as opposed to just live and take one day at a time.”
Anderson explained, “With any depression, there is a continuum, from mild to severe. Somebody with mild symptoms might find out that increasing their exercise, trying to get out into the sunlight on a regular bases might really be helpful and that’s all they need. If somebody is experiencing more severe symptoms, then they should come in and find out so that the best treatment can be given to them.” Anderson added, “When we don’t know what’s going on with ourselves, no matter what it is, it’s stressful. And once we know what’s going on… It does make more sense and it is easier to start looking for things that are gonna be helpful.”
“There is still some stigma around emotional health issues and getting help for them. As a community, what we can do is be more open and know that anyone can experience emotional health issues. So, by being open about it and not stigmatizing other people for getting help, that encourages people to get help,” Anderson noted.
As a KSC student, Chames explained that the surrounding campus community was very helpful for him, and possibly others facing something similar. Chames shared, “I think Keene is probably pretty well off. This is a campus that cares a lot about it’s students and their health and well being… Everyone kinda knows each other here. We’re kind of like a big family. So I think there’s a lot of support.”
Chames concluded that, if someone suspects or is diagnosed with SAD, or something similar, “The best thing you can do is try to read up on it and not just forget about it …You can rob yourself of enjoyment or happiness if you are too afraid to actually get checked out.”
Pamela Bump can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org