By Abigail Allen
Some students celebrate the chilly autumnal days with pumpkin spice lattes and chunky knit sweaters, but for students like Sydnee Pendergraff, the plummeting temperatures indicate a plummeting mood.
Pendergraff, a senior at Trevecca, is one of many college students who battle depression. For her and many other students with depression, the colder months bring about a spike in depressive symptoms.
“I was diagnosed with atypical depression in 2016 and later diagnosed with seasonal depression in 2019,” said Pendergraff. “As we went through my medical history, we realized I’ve had general depression since I was 9 years-old.”
Seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a type of depression occurring during the colder months. According to Psychology Today, “SAD is estimated to affect 10 million Americans.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Up to 44% of college students reported having symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
According to Amy Shelton, assistant professor of history, sociology and psychology at Trevecca, much like that of general depression, symptoms of SAD include feeling down, lacking motivation, decreased energy levels, irritability, changes in appetite, changes in sleep and more.
In Middle Tennessee, symptoms typically occur in late November and can last until late March or early April.
“[SAD] comes on because of the change in seasons,” said Shelton. “So, like we have decreased light exposure—the sun gets further away from us—and then that’s when we start to feel the depressive symptoms come in.”
When dealing with symptoms of SAD, one of the first things Shelton recommends to her patients is phototherapy.
“Light therapy has proven to really decrease our symptoms of SAD. What research tells us is that if we do it first thing in the morning,—just expose ourselves to light—then that will help us and alleviate some of the symptoms of depression,” said Shelton.
Other ways of coping with SAD include doing physical activities, which increase the heart rate, as well as being consistent with social interactions to combat loneliness.
Pendergraff copes by focusing her mind on things she enjoys, such as painting, listening to music and wearing her favorite sweaters. In previous years, Pendergraff has visited Trevecca’s Counseling Center, where her counselors taught her grounding techniques for her depressive episodes.
“When we can control our environment and our climates, we can control our behaviors and make accommodations in that way,” said Shelton.
Counseling sessions could look like a student sharing their feelings of sadness, especially around this time of year, said Ciara Smith, counseling intern at the counseling center.
“Depending on their answers, we can go from there,” said Smith.
The best way to prevent SAD is to have a plan of action and make behavior changes, said Shelton.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, but seek the help that you need to seek, whether that’s medication or therapy or working out or like whatever the outlet is for you,” said Pendergraff.