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Wellness Center offers SAD therapy

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With November come many things: Thanksgiving, holiday shopping, the approach of winter, final exams and the holiday season. For some people though, this time of the year brings on something much darker than the holidays. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is beginning to set in for many people across the nation. According to Dr. Michael Purcell, Assistant Clinical Director of Counseling Services at the Wellness Center, SAD is a form of depression that coincides with the seasons and causes the people affected by it to experience mood dips during the fall and winter seasons.

Students can easily feel like they are suffering from SAD. Junior Krzysztof Bielak said that he believes anyone can feel it to a certain degree.  It’s common for students to feel down during this time of the year, but according to Purcell, this does not necessarily mean that a student is suffering depression due to SAD.

“Just because you feel blue on a gloomy day doesn’t mean you have SAD,” Purcell said. “The symptoms need to interfere with your daily life and follow a consistent pattern in order to be diagnosed with SAD.”

SAD is a form of depression that is not as common as people may think. The symptoms are the same as depression. Someone experiencing SAD will display a loss in interest in things that normally make them happy, a loss of interest in sex, low motivation, low energy and a low sense of self-worth. People with SAD can also have problems getting either too much or too little sleep. In some serious cases, suicidal thoughts can occur.

A common theory held by many people, students and mental health professionals alike, is that SAD is caused by the lack of sunlight during the shorter fall and winter months. Junior Chellie Britt is one of the people who believe that this could be a cause to the problem, especially for college students.

“The cold and lack of sun could definitely be a problem for people who suffer from SAD. During the winter months in Chicago, most people don’t want to be outside, so they stay indoors,” Britt said.  “Not getting the little vitamin D the sun has to offer could certainly be a problem for students in college who are always studying.”

While it is hard to say that SAD specifically affects college students, they are at a risk in experiencing symptoms of depression. However, self-diagnosing can be problematic, warns Purcell.

“The time of the semester lends itself to increased stress because students are working on midterms or other long projects. On the same note, January is the start of second semester and May can seem a long time off,” Purcell said.

If students feel that they may be experiencing symptoms of SAD, Purcell suggests that their first step be to schedule a checkup with their physician or with the campus nurse practitioner. Doing so can rule out any physical ailments causing the student to experience symptoms similar to depression. If nothing is physically wrong, students should talk to a counselor about their symptoms and stressors and evaluate how they can become more physically active.

Fortunately though, according to Purcell, there are treatments available for people affected by SAD. A general treatment for depression, including SAD, is exercise. Another treatment that is more specifically geared towards SAD is light therapy. Light therapy employs the use of specially designed light boxes that people will sit in front of for 20  to 60 minutes a day. The Wellness Center, located in the lower level of Coughlin Hall, has a light therapy box that can be reserved by students experiencing symptoms of SAD.

Kelly Butler, Managing Editor

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