Student Health offers new solution for students with seasonal affective disorder

Micah Augusma of UISG and Student Health and Wellness have teamed up to offer a new method of therapy for students with Seasonal Affective Disorder.


Thomas A. Stewart

A HappyLight is seen on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. The light helps with seasonal depression.

Mastura Ibnat, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Student Government is offering special lamps to help students get the light they need during the darkest part of the year.

For UISG Director of Health and Safety Micah Augusma, seasonal affective disorder can take a toll on academics and mental health.

“Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression,” he said. “As the name suggests, it is dependent on the season and thought to be caused by lack of light, so it should come to no surprise that it is particularly strong in the fall and winter seasons with symptoms being that the affected [person] feels moody, lethargic, and lacking general energy.”

Because of this, Augusma decided to team up with Student Health & Wellness behavioral health manager Trisha Welter to create a solution for students suffering from the disorder. Student Health is coordinating the light-box program with the University Counseling Service and UISG-provided funding.

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“Our office specifically will help with checkout, tracking, and assessment of the effectiveness of the program,” Welter said.

The lamps, also known as light boxes or light-therapy boxes, are a method of therapy for students with the disorder. Patrick Rossmann, a Student Health behavioral health consultant, said the light boxes are designed to mimic outdoor lighting, which affect chemicals in the brain that are linked to mood and sleep.

“The light-therapy boxes we use give off UV-free light and deliver the recommended 10,000 lux intensity,” he said.

Augusma said the idea initially came to him during a research opportunity in Armenia this past summer.

“I had an opportunity to do research in Armenia, where the sun was always shining and the positive effects it had on not only me but the people as well,” he said. “It just so happened that this was around the time that I began considering my goals and initiatives for the upcoming administration.”

There are 10 light boxes located at four different locations. Students can check out light boxes, for two weeks, at Student Health at Westlawn, the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center, and the University Counseling Service at Westlawn or its University Capitol Center location.

“Big or small, there was something that I could do to help my fellow Hawks,” Augusma said. “So while doing research, I eventually came onto the idea [of] seasonal affective disorder lamps.”

Augusma and Welter said the cost of the initiative totals $1,500.

“They last a really long time, so hopefully this will provide the program for many years to come,” Welter said. “Student Wellness will also pay some marketing costs, but that is minimal.”

Rossmann suggested using the light box in the morning after waking up to optimize light therapy. The lamp should be positioned at a range between 6 to 24 inches away from the face, he said, and should also be slightly off-center. Users are advised not to look directly into the lamp. He also suggests using it for 30 to 60 minutes a day with consistency to optimize results.

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