Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

    Are you SAD?: Seasonal Affective Disorder: You are at risk

    At first glance, the room contains nothing out of the ordinary. It is a pleasant, subtly decorated space with a couch, TV and window on the far wall. A framed picture bears the logo “Fashion Your Mind.” Visitors might not guess that this room, located inside the Welty Health Center, is the home of an expensive and specially designed fluorescent lamp developed for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

    Every year around this time, as the days get shorter and darker, depression rates skyrocket. While many may feel glum during the long winter months, a small percentage suffers symptoms associated with SAD. SAD can cause lethargy and even weight gain; individuals who suffer from it may experience feelings of not wanting to get out of bed in the morning and relationships often suffer, just as they do with other forms of depression.

    According to the Northern County Psychiatric Associates’ Web site on the topic, as many as 10 million Americans have SAD, with rates highest in northern states like Washington. Kathy Ruggeri, an R.N. at the Welty Health Center, explained that people with SAD are already battling chronic depression. Symptoms of SAD can arise when someone moves to a colder, drearier environment. While Eastern Washington sees more days of sun than places like Portland or Seattle, for students coming from warmer, sunnier states, Walla Walla winters can seem harsh.
    “It has a lot to do with where you live,” said Ruggeri.

    Lamps like those located in the Welty Health Center and the Counseling Center are one method that has proven effective in treating SAD. “It helps trick the body,” said Ginny Matthews, an executive assistant who works at the health center. By simulating sunlight, the lamp can make a big difference for individuals who suffer from SAD.

    To use the lamp, patients might come in for five to 10 minute periods, sometimes as often as twice a day. Just sitting in front of it and reading a magazine, without looking directly at the light source, is often the best approach.

    Very few Whitman students know that these lamps exist. Although a handful have been diagnosed with SAD, only one student comes in sporadically to use the lamp. Matthews said she believed that more students might take advantage of the SAD lamps if awareness were increased.

    Most cases of SAD develop in one’s 30s. Ruggeri said that SAD “is not a big issue with students.” However, young people are at risk, especially if SAD runs in their family. Gender also plays a large role, with women making up 70-80 percent of sufferers. Ruggeri described her experience with several friends who struggle with SAD. One is so severely affected by lack of sunlight that she relocates to Hawaii each winter.
    “I’d like to be that sad,” Ruggeri said ruefully.

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