Seasonal depression: winter blues or something more?

Emily Nordquist

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder are similar to depression. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JACLYN CIFRANIC

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

During the winter months, the psychological clinic in Kent Hall will see a small increase in the number of students coming to them with feelings of depression.

For many students, this can be attributed to the stress of a new semester. For other students, it is seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression. One may experience feelings of sadness or apathy, change in appetite or sleeping patterns and a loss of energy or concentration, said John Akamatsu, director of the psychological clinic and psychology professor. With seasonal depression, these symptoms set in during the winter months.

“If I had the time, I would sleep 12 or 13 hours a day,” Kent State alumna Kristen Jones said. “I have no motivation to do anything in the winter. I just want to hibernate and not go out when it is cold or snowing.”

Jones first noticed her winter mood in middle school, but she was unaware of Seasonal Affective Disorder until high school.

Her change in behavior can be attributed to the lack of sunlight in winter due to the shorter days. One theory, posted on, is that when our bodies do not get enough sunlight, it slows down our biological clocks. Another theory suggests our serotonin levels are altered in the winter.

These biological theories could be an explanation as to why SAD affects women more than men.

“Women have depression more often than men, which might help explain why SAD is more common in women,” Akamatsu said. “On the other hand, it may also have to do with the different stressers men and women have and the way they cope with their problems.”

The time of season when someone begins to feel the effect of SAD is different for everyone. It can range from the end of fall to the middle of winter before these feelings of depression set in.

“By the beginning of February or March, I feel like I am crawling out of my skin,” Jones said. “It feels like it comes from not seeing the sun in so long. After about four or five months, I get terrible. This year has not been so bad since we have had a mild winter, but the year before last was really bad.”

Akamatsu said it’s important to remember that people can get sad in the winter.

“It can be the gloomy weather or from holiday stress,” he said. “The winter blues is fairly common. The least complicated way to combat seasonal depression is to stay active. Also, you should remember that most of these feelings can be attributed to the season, just keep yourself focused.”

For some, their feelings of depression go beyond staying active and focused. Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder includes counseling, anti-depressant medication and light therapy. In severe cases, all of these options should be facilitated by a professional.

Light therapy consists of sitting near white fluorescent lights to mimic sunlight exposure. Jones said she had read about SAD in magazines and ended up getting the “happy lights” for Christmas.

“I have one on my desk and a larger floor lamp,” she said. “I have heard for some people it doesn’t do anything, but I have noticed they really help me. You are supposed to sit under them for about a half hour every day. I try to eat and read by them when I can.”

Seasonal depression can range from mild to severe with feelings of suicide. To find counseling on campus, call the Psychological Clinic in Kent hall at (330) 672-2487.

Contact student life reporter Emily Nordquist at [email protected]