Cold seasons causing SAD students

With the cold, gloomy days that Minnesota State University, Mankato students (we) are facing right now as they come to mid-winter, many are facing something known as Seasonal Affective Disorder: a subtype of depression associated with the changing of the seasons. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD affects approximately 5% of adults in the United States. Symptoms of SAD look like mild depressive symptoms- lack of energy, moodiness, loss of interest in hobbies, changes in sleep and eating habits, difficulty concentrating and more. SAD may begin at any age, but most commonly occurs between the ages of 18 and 30 during the college years. 

There are a few different ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, including but not limited to medication, talk therapy and bright light therapy. While symptoms will obviously improve with the changing of the seasons, they can be helped sooner with treatment.

Bright light therapy is often the most accessible and recommended treatment for SAD. Professor Miranda Hellenbrand of the MSU Counseling Center explained how the light therapy boxes work. 

“Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light box for a certain length of time each day. The type and intensity of light from the light box is not found in normal household lighting,” 

Health Educator Lori Marti noted that there is a bright light therapy box located in the Health Education office in Carkoski Room 100 that students are able to make appointments to utilize. 

“We have had the light therapy box in the Relaxation Station for about seven years now,” said Marti. “It is best to use it earlier in the day because it can disrupt sleep patterns. Students can reserve it for 20-30 minutes any time the office is open before noon.”

The way light therapy works is by coming through the eye and affecting the pineal gland, which will heighten energy and mood. 

“Sitting in front of the light is akin to being outside on a sunny day; it has the same effect on our bodies,” said Marti.

While light therapy’s benefits often outweighing its detriments, it can cause eye irritation, headaches, irritability and inability to sleep, it’s advised to play around with the time and distance away when using a light therapy box or contact your healthcare provider.

“You don’t use it by looking directly at it,” said Marti. “Instead, we recommend students read a book or do some studying while sitting in front of it.”

The Health Education Office is not the only place on campus with light therapy boxes. Rental boxes are located in the ERC, which is in the basement of the Memorial Library.

“The library has smaller bright lights that students can check out and take home with them for a period of time. That’s a good opportunity to try one before you buy one,” said Marti. 

Students are also welcome to contact MSU’s Counseling Center to begin the process of receiving therapy care if they are looking for something additional.

“The Counseling Center offers a multitude of resources and services addressing students’ mental health concerns. The services are short-term, wellness-oriented and address a broad range of needs,” said Hellenbrand. “The Counseling Center aims to provide a safe, affirming environment where students can connect to resources that will help improve overall well-being.”

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