As the days grow shorter and sunshine turns to rain, the changing seasons usher a dark cloud of depression for many residents of the Pacific Northwest.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression related to the changing seasons, afflicts students and staff at Clark College and is especially prevalent in the Pacific Northwest. SAD is related to reduced amounts of sunlight and is most common during late fall and early winter.
In a survey of 31 Clark sociology students, nearly half of respondents said they experience seasonal depression and five said they were unsure.
Deja Kyle, one of the surveyed students, said she’s dealt with seasonal depression for almost a decade. A Southern California native, Kyle said the gloomy, grey Washington weather comes with downcast feelings.
“I’ll lay in bed, for days sometimes, feeling stuck in a rut,” Kyle said. “Sometimes I’ll cry for no reason. You feel restless and hopeless. Everything feels like doom and gloom. You’re sad, but not for any particular reason.”
Kyle, 22, said her depression was at its worst during her early years of high school but has improved with the help of friends, family and counseling.
While pursuing a psychology major, Kyle said she wants to make depression easier to discuss openly. She said many people want to find help, but are scared.
“There’s such stigma around mental health,” Kyle said. “When someone says that they’re in therapy, a lot of people think ‘oh, they’re crazy.’ I want to open that dialogue so people know it’s okay.”
Kyle said she combats SAD by using lights designed to mimic natural sunlight and a “calming” crystal salt lamp that keeps her spirits high during fall and winter. But the most important thing, is to keep busy and “not just give in to ‘oh it’s raining,’” she said. “You have to go out and just dance in the rain.”
Donald Ludwig, a Clark sociology and criminal justice instructor and transplant from the East Coast, said he also struggles to overcome the overcast weather and has been diagnosed with SAD.
Ludwig said he observes changes in behavior during Winter quarter among his students and colleagues.
While students are less participatory in class during Winter than in Fall and Spring quarters, he said instructors can become withdrawn too. “People are a little more isolated and less social,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig said he’s seen a lot of research demonstrating the importance of light and physical activity to combat SAD, but said that it can be more complicated. “There are a lot of theories that may answer pieces of the puzzle,” Ludwig said. “But no theory that answers all of it.”
Ludwig said depression is still stigmatized throughout society, but students at Clark have resources to fight it. “We have excellent counseling services because we know that that is a big need for students,” Ludwig said. “I think society still largely views depression as an individual weakness … But [SAD] is much more acceptable.”
In addition to taking advantage of Clark’s Counseling and Health Center, which offers students 10 free counseling sessions per year for two years, Ludwig suggests students talk to their instructors. “I would say that most professors are more than willing to meet with students,” he said.
Ludwig said he manages his SAD by keeping a varied but balanced lifestyle. “I think people who have a lot going on in their world that is positive are likely to avoid SAD,” he said. Ludwig said he credits the two children he’s in the process of adopting for keeping his days diverse. “Never is there a day that’s the same,” he said.
Summer Brown, a licensed family therapist, Clark Counselor and professor, has experience supporting students who struggle with depression. She says her goal is to equip students with “more tools to cope.”
She said stigma on campus is “parallel” with stigma in society. “They’re worried about what other people will think or they’re worried about messages they’ve got” Brown said. “That asking for help is weakness.”
She said students come to the counseling center for academic support, but talk beyond school-related subjects.
“Envision a time where you feel better; what are the things you’re doing differently?” Brown said about students who may be reluctant to seek help. “Taking good care of yourself is always an investment in your future, and you don’t alway have the skills to do that on your own.”