Depression in the Winter

As the holiday highs come to an end, people are left with the promise of the new year. The pressure to stick to those new year’s resolutions or lose those last five pounds before spring break can cause copious amounts of stress, eventually resulting in seasonal affective disorder (SAD), more commonly known as the winter blues. This is common on many college campuses as the fall rush of events may leave a student unexcited for the next quarter ahead. Unfortunately, SAD often goes untreated and is not taken as seriously as it should be.

Third-year Cyla Grisso was one of those students.

“The medical problems got to a point where I could hardly stay sane anymore because of the agony I was going through,” Grisso said.

The past few months had been a roller coaster of emotions, causing stress and exhaustion for her physical and mental health. These feelings of overwhelming stress, appetite loss or gain, introverted feelings or even suicide are not only feelings of depression but are also specific symptoms of SAD. Symptoms can also heighten anxiety and energy levels, making people feel less motivated to conduct themselves in a natural behavior. For Grisso, it was a rough turn toward the positive.

“I tried to stay in my classes but started to fall behind and get failing grades on tests, which is not like me because I am an A or B student. I just couldn’t focus or physically do anything that was needed, not only in lectures but also in my dance classes since I am a dance major. So I dropped out for the rest of the quarter and came back.”

Following Grisso’s arrival back to school, she was in a terrible car accident that left her in the Intensive Care Unit, physically immobile and mentally unstable. She knew she needed support and help to get her through this.

“I sought a lot of help from a couple of friends and members of my family, but it got to a point where I felt a counselor was needed. I saw one on campus at UCI for a few weeks to try to talk over a lot of the things I had been going through. I also talked to someone at my home church. Both of these people helped me to look at some of the things in a different light.”

The importance of treating mental health problems and disorders has struck a chord across the United States. With the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut as well as various school shootings from Virginia Tech to Columbine, the focus on mental health is obvious.

According to the American College Health Association survey of 2012, 46.5 percent of students felt hopeless and 86.8 percent of students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do. These statistics are astonishing but accurate, as students are not only adjusting to a new academic setting; they are also learning how to become responsible adults. Students do not know how to properly cope with these feelings, causing them to engage in activities such as binge eating and excessive sleeping during the winter months as well.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) reported in “Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities” that 45 percent of college students binge drink and almost 21 percent abuse prescription or illegal drugs.

The UCI Counseling Center is a great on-campus option to seek mental health counseling as well as group therapy, psychiatric services and urgent care. Through these services, students are able to cope with symptoms of the winter blues but also create a new sense of understanding for their emotions.

Although seeking help from a professional is the best way to deal with symptoms of SAD, there are many ways to begin coping with your symptoms by yourself. Gain support from your friends and family by letting them know what you are feeling. Try to get outside as much as possible, as Vitamin D has been medically known to alleviate feelings of depression. Create a list of goals and motivations you have that are feasible and begin to check them off. Hit the gym and try to get moving, releasing feel-good endorphins in your body. Spend time around the people you love. Most importantly, do what you feel is right for you and know that good times are just around the corner.
If you need to seek help, call the Counseling Center at 949-824-6457 or, for immediate assistance, call 911.