Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a specific type of depression that occurs at certain times of the year, most commonly with symptoms starting in the late fall and early winter. Living in a place with short winter days and limited sunlight, such as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, can make students more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder. The symptoms of SAD are similar to other forms of depression and include a loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable, changes in eating and sleeping, loss of energy and the ability to concentrate, hopelessness, and social withdrawal. Fortunately, seasonal affective disorder is very treatable. Many people respond favorably to treatments, including psychotherapy, light therapy, and/or medications. SAD is not something that an individual has to just “tough out” and accept as part of living in this Northern region. Help is available.

When you observe a student struggling with seasonal affective disorder:

Do

  • Reach out to the student. When possible, see the student in private.
  • Tell the student that you have noticed she/he appears to be feeling down. Encourage the student to talk about her/his feelings.
  • Be supportive, use active listening, and convey your concerns.
  • Help the student to develop an action plan to seek help.
  • Initiate the action plan, such as having the student call for a counseling appointment from your office or walk the student directly to Counseling Services.
  • Ask if the student has any thought of suicide. For example, "Have you had thoughts of harming yourself?" Don't ignore remarks about suicide. If the student shares thoughts of suicide
    1. accompany the student to Counseling Services (Administration Building, room 301), if possible.
    2. If the student is in immediate danger, call 911.
    3. If it is after hours and the student is not in immediate danger, encourage the student to talk with a Dial Help counselor by phone at 800-562-7622
  • Seek consultation, even if the student is not willing to go to counseling. Call Counseling Services at 906-487-2538.

Don't

  • Ignore the student.
  • Minimize the situation, e.g., “Oh, it’s just winter. Everyone feels down this time of year.”
  • Expect the student to stop feeling depressed without some form of intervention.
  • Be afraid to directly ask about suicidal thoughts.
  • Try to take this on yourself—direct the student to Counseling Services.