Students are no strangers to spending long hours indoors, only tasting vitamin D in between classes or during study breaks. However, when winter rolls around student life becomes particularly gloomy.

Not only do classes appear more challenging but, the lack of sun and frigid winds contribute to an increase in solitary time indoors. This may seem to be expected during cold winter months but, in actuality a case of the winter blues can lead to mental health concerns, especially among university populations. With ‘Bell Let’s Talk” in our recent memories, it seems only appropriate to continue the conversation about student mental health, and how the lack of sunshine on campus can take a serious toll on students.

A systematic review completed in 2012 found prevalence rates of depressive disorders to be roughly 30 per cent among university students. This figure includes what is commonly known as winter seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a relevant experience for many. Similarly, to other forms of depression, various studies have found that winter SAD can include symptoms such as; low mood, loss of interest and decreased energy. What needs to be noted among students is that, rates of depressive disorders such as winter SAD, are higher on university campuses than among the general population. As a society we need to be concerned. Experiencing mental health problems in young adulthood such as depressive disorders, can negatively influence academic success and is likely to cause adverse effects into later adulthood.

‘Bell Let’s Talk’ day has become a powerful way for communities, such as the student body, to come together to discuss mental health. Regardless of this success, we cannot treat student mental health as a one-day discussion. As students we manage multiple stressors in silence every day, and as a result we have become a population with one of the highest rates of depressive disorders. A recent study found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most proficient long-term option for threatening seasonal SAD. Aspects of CBT include coping strategies and altering maladaptive thoughts and feelings.

Professor Carrie Arnold, a practicing psychologist says, “Whether students take a workshop on CBT or utilize the many self-help books on this subject, it is important to take an active approach to self-care.” As we continue to fight back against dark winter days, while managing our many responsibilities as students, it is important to treat ourselves and others with compassion this winter season.

-Katharine Constable, psychology IV 

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