Have the 'winter blues' got you
By Jamie Karras
October 25, 2006 | Arms have been reaching back to
the dark and dusty parts of closets recently, reaching
for long-sleeved shirts and jackets, to replace shorts
and sleeveless shirts.
It's official, fall is here.
But for some, it's something they have been dreading
"Sometimes I just want to put my head on my desk and
leave it there all day," said Cathy Harrell, a sufferer
of seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder.
"I feel tired and unmotivated to do anything. I'd rather
stay in my pajamas and surf the net."
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder
associated with depression episodes related to the change
of the seasons, according to the National
Mental Health Association.
For Cathy, it all comes down to where she lives.
"January and February are really dark months in Alaska
and that's when it's the hardest," she said.
People with SAD might experience loss of energy, hypersomnia
(i.e., sleeping too much), overeating, weight gain,
and a craving for carbohydrates, said Kyle Hancock,
a doctoral student in the psychology department at Utah
However, a simple change in mood during the winter
months does not particularly reflect SAD. There are
three factors that identify a true SAD sufferer, said
Hancock. "They include:
- It must occur for at least two years with the onset
being at the change of the seasons (typically beginning
in the fall/early winter and remitting in spring.
- No occurrence of a depressive episode outside of
the season in which it originally presented
- The seasonal depressive episodes must outnumber
all non-seasonal depressive episodes in a person's
"Many people feel a bit more sad from time to time
during winter and it may be due to a variety of other
reasons-including the inability to be outside and physically
active as much, loss of available enjoyable activities
(e.g., outside sports, leisure walks), shorter days,
less sunlight, etc.," Hancock said. "So, whether a person
is truly depressed or not is largely determined by their
own individual experience of the symptoms of depression
that they experience."
In the first few years prior to being diagnosed with
SAD, Harrell sought help from medication, but soon after
discontinued use of it because she didn't like the way
it made her feel.
"I felt emotionless," Harrell said. "Like if a person
were to come up and hand me a million dollars, my reaction
would be 'oh, thanks' and that's it."
Instead Harrell found help through other, more natural,
"I work part-time outside the home, go to the gym five
days a week and try to be really careful with what I
eat," she said. "Some winters we go to Hawaii and get
completely out of the state."
Light therapy, or exposure to very bright light (at
least ten times the intensity of ordinary domestic lighting),
has been a means of treatment for SAD and has shown
to be effective in up to 85 percent of diagnosed cases,
according to the Seasonal
Affective Disorders Association.
Between four and six percent of the U.S. population
suffers from SAD, while 10 to 20 percent may suffer
from a more mild form of winter blues, according to
Clinic Health Information Center. Most of these
sufferers are women.
Hancock said, "Some of the best things that people
can do to manage symptoms of depression (including seasonal
- regular physical exercise
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- sleeping the appropriate amount of time (i.e., not
too much and not too little)
- striving for a balanced life (in terms of work and
- striving for optimism
- doing things that people enjoy (e.g., spending time
with friends/loved ones)
- maintaining healthy thought patterns"
Individuals who experience intense forms of seasonal
depression may wish to seek mental health services.
The staff of the Counseling Center at USU provides individual
counseling/psychotherapy sessions. To be eligible for
ongoing service you must be currently enrolled at USU
and carrying six credit hours. To learn more about the
Counseling Center please refer go to their Web site,