Knowing SAD

A counselor's perspective on seasonal affective disorder

As we progress closer and closer to the winter months students are dealing with the regular stress of keeping up with classes, work schedules, and social lives. Some students, however, may be dealing with other issues, and one of those issues that becomes more prominent this time of year is seasonal depression.

According to the American Psychiatric Association around 5 percent of adults in the United States deal with seasonal depression, officially known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The time period in which SAD is most felt is around 40 percent of the year.

Mark VanLent, a counselor with the Personal Counseling Center at Ferris helped explain SAD and how it may affect students.

“Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder, most commonly seen as depression which arises in the late fall and winter months. Symptoms include feelings of depression, sadness, reduced energy, loss of interest in activities, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness,” VanLent said. “The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but some factors which can influence the condition are reduced levels of sunshine and reduced levels of the brain chemical serotonin, vitamin D insufficiency, and an imbalance of  the chemical melatonin.”

When it comes to students, according to VanLent, SAD can make students less likely to leave their rooms, do fewer activities, and become less social in the fall and winter months. Students can also feel less energy, a depressed mood, and feelings of sadness. 

VanLent also said that Ferris’ climate can also influence if those on-campus experience SAD.

“Living in Michigan, SAD is very common,” VanLent said. “As all Michiganders know, Michigan winters can be long, dark, cloudy, and cold.  The lack of sunlight and decreased activity can cause a change in our internal clock, and can also contribute to vitamin D deficiency, and lower levels of serotonin.”

It is also important to note that no one case of seasonal affective disorder is the same. One student may just have feelings of sadness that don’t interfere with their daily lives to a great extent. Other students may have a more severe case. Students should evaluate how they feel and get help if they need it.

There are some ways for students to prevent themselves from getting SAD and to help if they do have it.

“One of the best ways to prevent or help with SAD is to try to stay active.  Get outside when you can, exercise, take walks and allow yourself natural sunlight whenever possible.  Maintain your social activities.  It is also important to get enough sleep and focus on proper nutrition,” VanLent said. “Eating vitamin D rich foods like fish may be helpful.  And research indicates that eating berries and foods rich in folic acid like salad and oatmeal, etc. may also be helpful.  Try to stay active and stay on top of your classes to help fight off SAD.”

If you are a student and are feeling as though you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, or need someone to talk to, the Personal Counseling Center can be reached by phone at (231) 591-5968 or via email at