Opinion: What you need to know to navigate seasonal depression

There are plenty of resources available for those struggling with the winter ailment.


Raquele Decker

The University of Iowa University Counseling Service is seen on October 17, 2019. (Raquele Decker/The Daily Iowan)

Taylor Newby, Columnist

Seasonal depression is more than just the winter blues, and it’s important that people who navigate it during these fall and winter months make strides in taking care of themselves.

Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a modifier of depression — meaning it’s still depression, just with a seasonal pattern.

“For folks who suffer or struggle with it, it’s pretty significant for them,” University Counseling Service Director Barry Schreier said. “And people who have it know it’s coming and feel helpless to do anything about it in some ways.”

People who grapple with seasonal depression recognize that at the same time every year, they are going to experience depression, and at the same time every year, they will reach full remission.

The symptoms are the same as depression — and according to the Mayo Clinic, they can appear as sluggishness, feeling unmotivated, being tearful, or feeling hopeless nearly every day.

If you’re even experiencing just a few of these, it’s important to take steps to care for your mental health — especially when there are resources readily available to you.

Along with that, people can find that they’re experiencing a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, having difficulty concentrating or trouble sleeping.

While people can experience many of these signs and symptoms, that doesn’t mean you need to experience all of these symptoms listed above in order to take your mental health seriously.

If you’re even experiencing just a few of these, it’s important to take steps to care for your mental health — especially when there are resources readily available to you.

One of the first places Schreier will point students toward when seeking help with seasonal depression, apart from University Counseling Service, is to light-therapy boxes.

While the free short-term counseling services offered to students are helpful in strategizing goals, verbally processing, and sitting with someone who’s both experienced and an expert, the light-therapy boxes provoke a different sort of change and healing in people.

Because of the significant lack of sunlight that results from shorter days and overcast weather, there’s a lack of Vitamin D in people which can be a common cause of seasonal depression. Light-therapy boxes work to activate Vitamin D in people by giving off a light that mimics natural light.

Students can check out light-therapy boxes from the University Counseling Service and Student Wellness locations.

“For some people, it makes such a difference for them,” Schreier said. “Some students kept them and bought them from us.”

Apart from light therapy and traditional counseling, there is a handful of other ways to be intentional about maintaining mental health that Schreier described. He said factors such as regular eating, sleep, and exercise are vital, along with good social connections.

Regardless of whether traditional counseling, light therapy, or the basics of good brain health are avenues you want to intentionally pursue, it’s important to take steps toward that direction and remain consistent in doing them.

This winter is not a time to be passive in taking care of yourself; it is a time to be proactive.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.