Swinter: A Little Taste of Summer in the Winter

cw: mental health, depression

If you hang around politically involved Vassar students long enough, you’ll quickly discover that mental health reform both within and beyond our community is a dialogue a lot of students are involved in. College students everywhere face a wide range of mental health issues every year, and the numbers of students affected are increasing rapidly. Within the past ten years, the number of students on psychiatric medications have increased by 10%, which is a startling statistic that doesn’t even account for students who aren’t receiving medication. Schools are beginning to acknowledge the influx of mental health issues in its students, however, resources are not being increased at the rate needed to provide all of its students with the help they need, especially since resource expansion requires additional funding. This is a major site of contention on Vassar’s campus between students and administration and it is an issue not likely to be resolved soon. In recent years, resistance from students and additional pressure from the VSA resulted in the hiring of several new Metcalf professionals and the formation of several new support groups applicable to a wider variety of student needs. There is, however, still much more work to be done. Currently, the VSA Student Life Committee is encouraging administration to continue expanding services it provides its students. In a letter the Committee wrote, it requests transportation be provided for students who need to purchase medications off-campus, are referred to off-campus counseling, as well as students that need taking to and from the hospital.

In addition to the nationwide increase in those suffering from mental health issues, Vassar’s regional climate only exacerbates already existing problems among students. One thing prospective students don’t often consider is the harsh Northeastern winters in Poughkeepsie. As a result, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects a lot of unsuspecting Vassar students, specifically those from warmer and sunnier geographical locations. It is estimated that roughly ten million americans suffer from SAD, which is a type of depression that is brought on by seasonal changes, often beginning in the fall and worsening throughout the winter months. SAD proliferates in different ways depending on the individual, but it can cause lethargy, moodiness, irritability, weight gain, hypersensitivity, intensification of pre-existing depression, and in extreme cases, hospitalization. For people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, SAD can cause extreme depression in the winter in juxtaposition to mania in the spring and summer seasons. As the days grow shorter, the temperature drops, and snow begins to fall, the presence of SAD on campus is palpable among Vassar students.

The change in sunlight, which is a direct effect of the changes in season, disrupts the human body’s internal clock, causing SAD to develop in many. These changes cause a drop in the neurotransmitter that affects serotonin levels and subsequently, one’s mood. Levels of melatonin in the body, a chemical that regulates sleep pattern and mood as well, are further affected. While not everyone that experiences these changes develops SAD, there are certain risk factors that enhance individuals’ likelihood of developing it. Young people are more susceptible to experiencing SAD as well as distance away from the equator (the farther the distance correlates with the likelihood), both of which are unavoidable at Vassar. Pre-existing mental health issues can compound the effects of SAD and a diagnosed family history of mental health doesn’t help either. And an added bonus to all this: women, you are more likely to develop SAD than men (yay)!

When left untreated, much like generalized depression, SAD can cause suicidal thoughts or behavior, social withdrawal, issues with school, and substance abuse. On a more positive note, however, there are both ways to manage SAD symptoms in day-to-day life as well as through specific treatments. Exposure to bright light therapy, like this “Happy Lamp”, have proven to be especially effective, with roughly 80% positive reaction rates shown in this study. There are also extended-release antidepressants on the market as well as therapy that specializes in Seasonal Affective Disorder. Daily management can also take the form of regular exercising, staying in brighter and sunnier environments, and generally spending more time outside. It is critically important to also be proactive in one’s mental health, making sure to routinely practice self-care and manage stress-levels, communicating with professors and your peers for additional support as needed, staying social and getting enough sleep.

It is advised to seek help from medical or counseling professionals should you feel down for days on end, hopeless, or experience lack of motivation in your daily activities. Significant changes in sleeping patterns, appetite, or suicidal thoughts should be immediately brought to campus resources.

This Saturday, December 5th, Noyes House Team, Metcalf, and ViCE are hosting Swinter, or rather “Summer during Winter”, from 1-5 PM in Vassar’s Villard Room. The event will have summer themed food and entertainment to provide students that are already experiencing early onset SAD a space for fun, socializing, and education. Metcalf professionals will be present to distribute information on resources Vassar currently has for its students, dedicating the energy to raising student-body awareness of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity you don’t want to miss out on, because when again will you get the chance to ride a mechanical shark?

Check out the promo video here

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