Winter weather brings seasonal depression

By Gus Bode

Like many other students, Zach Johnson says he hates the winter.

“I just sleep all the time because the sun’s never out,” said Johnson, a sophomore from Sterling studying cinema and photography.

For many people, winter weather can bring a sense of melancholy and apathy. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, seasonal affective disorder may be experienced by six of every 100 people in the United States, and some mild form of the disorder may be experienced by another 10 to 20 percent.


Christy Hamilton, coordinator of the university’s student health services, said symptoms of depression around this time of year are often linked to seasonal changes.

“If it can’t be associated with a normal change in life, we do see increased numbers in depression during the winter months,” she said.

The Mayo Clinic, a non-profit medical care and research group, said seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall and go away during the sunnier days of early spring. Symptoms parallel to those of depression include hopelessness, lack of interest in normal activities, low energy not associated with lack of sleep, carbohydrate craving, weight gain and social withdrawal.

Johnson said he drinks alcohol more excessively in the winter because typical outdoor activities are limited.

“You’re really stuck inside watching TV unless you’re the kind of person who has hobbies they can do inside,” he said. “Still, I don’t even want to do those things in the winter because I feel like my outside time has been stolen from me. Being stuck inside all the time is depressing.”

The weather plays a large role in the daily lives of some students. Mekedm Asfaw, a junior from Chicago studying aviation technologies, said he has a two-hour lab once a week in the airplane hangar at the airport. He said the hangar gets cold during the winter, and it gets hard to focus on work.

“When you’re in the hangar in the winter, you just want to get out of there the whole time,” he said.


Jordan Lopez, a senior studying cinema and photography from Sterling, lives at Lost Cross, a live music venue that typically showcases the local punk scene. Lopez said the basement floods, halting business when Carbondale experiences inclement weather.

“I think my house might have seasonal depression,” he said. “Nothing ever happens there in the winter. No one wants to hang out in that basement when it’s cold and wet.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the sun contributes significantly to the daily production of vitamin D, and low levels are associated with seasonal affective disorder.

Students who are not from the Midwest said it can be hard to adjust to the winter weather. Kady Chan, a senior exchange student from Taiwan studying business, said she found it difficult to transition to a sunless winter. She said the lack of sunlight has already begun to affect her mood.

“I like the temperature, but sometimes I feel upset if there’s no sun for a whole week,” she said. “(In Taiwan) we usually have sun every day, no matter if it’s cold or hot. The sunsets are fairly early here.”

Hamilton said the best way to treat mild seasonal depression is to increase exposure to light.

“When possible, try to avoid dark environments, keep the lights as bright as possible, scheduling more time outdoors, and any sort of exercise is helpful for mild depression,” she said. “If it can be exercise outdoors, that’s even better.”

Lopez said he keeps from getting depressed by staying busy during winter months.

“Normally, I just sit around and sulk, but I’ve had a lot of stuff to work on,” he said. “You should find stuff to work on so you can think about other things.”

Hamilton said there is a difference between having the winter blues and seasonal depression.

“If the symptoms they are having are severe enough to affect their daily living, they need to schedule an appointment and seek out either the counseling center or their medical provider,” she said.

Sabrina Imundo | Daily Egyptian SOURCE: MAYO CLINIC