Photo by Joe Rudko// AS Review

Finals week is a stressful enough time in general, but fall finals week may be more detrimental to some students’ mental health than others. The chilling, windy weather combined with increasingly shorter days leaves some students dreading the journey through campus from test to test.

For some, this dread of the weather is simply an annoyance. For others, it may turn into actual depression. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder consisting of depressive symptoms brought on by seasonal changes. Emily Gibson, medical director of the Student Health Center, said SAD is very common in Washington and consists of increased sleep and appetite, fatigue and low motivation.

Although he is not clinically diagnosed with the disorder, sophomore Conner Mullan said he experiences symptoms associated with SAD almost every day in the late fall and winter.

"I hate the cold," Mullan said. "Sometimes I’ll wake up and look out my window and I can just tell that once I walk outside, it’s going to suck. Even when it’s sunny outside, sometimes just knowing it’s cold out makes me not want to get out of bed."

Nancy Corbin, director of Western’s Counseling Center, said the main cause of SAD stems from individuals receiving an inadequate amount of sunlight. She said that actual sunlight is the most effective source for alleviating SAD’s depressive symptoms.

"Just being outside for half an hour a day, even when it’s a cloudy, rainy day, still can give us enough light to ward off seasonal affective disorder," Corbin said.

Students can receive light therapy, the most common treatment for SAD, in many places throughout campus. The Counseling Center in Old Main 540, the Wellness Outreach Center in Viking Union 432 and the Student Health Center all have SAD lamps that students can use for free. Corbin said students should sit in front of these lights for about 30 minutes in the morning for best results.

Gibson said that in addition to SAD lamps, traditional antidepressants have been proven effective in treating SAD symptoms.

Corbin said SAD can be particularly prevalent in individuals who are used to engaging in frequent outdoor activity. Mullan, an active athlete, said the harsh weather cripples his ability to partake in outdoor sports such as football and basketball.

"The best part about the weather being good is the ability to spend the day outside," Mullan said. "When it’s freezing and rainy out, I’m a lot less active and I spend more time doing things that are unhealthy for me."

Corbin said that although the cause is not certain, the Counseling Center receives more students at this time of year seeking services for depression, especially during midterms and finals.

"I think we’re very much affected just by [living in Washington] and the fact that it does get dark so early," Corbin said.

The shorter days may throw off students’ sleeping schedule. Corbin said that individuals with SAD are often very lethargic. This mix of hypersomnia with the already chaotic sleep schedule that revolves around finals week can severely worsen depressive symptoms.

Corbin said that students should try their best to stick to a consistent 7-hour sleep cycle to reduce SAD symptoms. She also said that students should take a 45-minute break before falling asleep after spending time in front of a computer or television screen. She said that spending too much time in front of a screen can cause an individual’s brain to think that it is daytime, throwing off natural sleeping patterns.

"I think there are definitely things that people can do with a healthy diet, with regular exercise, and with a good sleep pattern that can mitigate some serious symptoms," Corbin said.