Demi Askew noticed her behavior changed during the colder months starting in high school, but it worsened during her freshman year at Temple University.
Between balancing a full course load, making new friends and being away from her family in Manchester, Maryland, the sophomore criminal justice major began to feel alone, anxious and fatigued each year as fall turned to winter.
“At a certain point in the semester, especially in college, it’s just a lot, and everyone needs a break and sometimes you can’t have it,” said Askew. “That makes it worse, and people aren’t taking care of themselves completely.”
Seasonal affective disorder, characterized by low energy, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite or weight, suicidal ideations and other symptoms, affects people primarily during the late fall and winter months, especially those living in colder areas, according to the Mayo Clinic. It often subsides when temperatures rise during spring, but seasonal affective disorder affects some people during spring and summer.
The American Psychiatric Association estimates about 5 percent of adults in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder. To be diagnosed, a person “must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons” for at least two years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Askew said college’s constant deadlines and midterms intensify underlying issues, like previous symptoms of depression and anxiety, and added to her symptoms.
“I had to force myself to do things, and it ended up bettering me, but it was a really hard time,” she added.
For students like Askew who struggle with SAD, anxiety or depression, Temple offers resources on campus.
Located in Tuttleman Counseling Center, the students struggling with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and other mental health issues can use the Resiliency Resource Center to decompress in a calming environment. The center keeps the lights low and plays ambient music.
It also offers stress and anxiety management tools like bright light therapy, which helps create sleeping patterns and reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, according to the Harvard Medical Center.
Students who visit the Resiliency Resource Center can also use coloring books, massage chairs and iPods with meditation apps, like Headspace, that offer guided meditation sessions for specific topics.
The center employs eight undergraduate interns who help run its day-to-day operations in addition to professional counselors. When a student visits the center for their first session, after an initial consultation with a Tuttleman counselor, staff members give them a tour and explain how to best use each resource.
Their job is essentially to help students build on weekly sessions they may have with therapists, said Zainab Nyazie, a senior psychology major and intern at the center.
“If there is a particular disorder or issue that has come up within the past few weeks that the [students] need to work on, that is where we become involved and offer particular resources for those problems, just to alleviate these issues until their next weekly meeting with their clinicians,” said Shawn McLaughlin, a senior psychology major who interns at the center.
“Nine times out of 10, we see the students come back multiple times,” he added, emphasizing students often find the resources helpful in alleviating SAD symptoms.
For Nyazie, the key to tackling mental health issues is creating a dialogue to bring mental health issues to light.
“We have to break the stigma,” Nyazie said. “If we don’t do that, then nobody’s going to get anywhere. The more people that talk about it and get comfortable talking about it, I think the more likely they will be to seek help.”