How students can cope with pandemic and seasonal depression

COVID-19 increased depression rates this year, and with winter drawing near, seasonal depression is on the rise. Here are some ways that you can help decrease symptoms of unwanted winter blues this year.


Illustration by Emily Meilands.

Kendall Little, Managing Editor

COVID-19 has brought a new type of depression into the world of mental health. As the days get shorter, seasonal depression begins to set in for people around the world. With the pre-existing stress of exams, jobs, and extracurriculars, how do college students keep their mental health steady when pandemic depression and seasonal depression strike?

FAU’s police blotter reported several baker acts, welfare checks, and one suicide attempt from the fall semester alone.

An FAU student who wished to remain anonymous said, “My social anxiety has gotten worse because I haven’t gone out much. I try to remain hopeful, but I feel like everything is just getting worse. My depression has been heavy and I see a void when I think of my future.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) “begins and ends at about the same times every year,” according to the Mayo Clinic. SAD is not a new medical disorder, but when combined with the depression caused by 2020’s pandemic, it can worsen symptoms.

Symptoms of SAD include feeling sluggish, oversleeping, having low energy, and losing interest in things you typically enjoy once the days become shorter and it gets darker earlier.

College students have a heightened risk of developing SAD. An article from Penn State Behrend said, “Your ability to cope is compromised by the increase of stress due to the demands of college. This can create a domino effect – decrease in energy, inability to complete homework assignments, problems with classes, lack of confidence in your abilities, feelings of depression, and so on.”

Depression caused by COVID-19 is a newer phenomenon, but still just as detrimental to mental health. It is essentially depression caused by the stress of the pandemic due to the uncertainty of the entire situation and isolation from others. A study that was published in JAMA Network Open reported that three times as many Americans met the criteria for diagnosed depression now than before the pandemic occurred.

Though SAD and pandemic depression are daunting, there are ways for students to keep themselves afloat.

FAU has options for students dealing with any type of depression, anxiety, or plain stress. “We are currently providing individual, group, and relationship counseling via phone or Zoom,” Kathryn Kominars, the director of FAU Counseling and Psychological Services said.

In addition to clinical services, CAPS offers various workshops and general discussions to help students learn to cope and maintain their mental health year-round.

Kominars added, “We also have counselors on call 24/7 to provide immediate support to students who are in crisis.”

COVID-19 and the winter season can cause stress, but “given all of these stressors and uncertainty, it is vital to care for your mental health,” Kominars said.

In an article for the New York Times, Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal said, “Just understanding the issues can give people a blueprint for handling them more effectively.”

Darkness is a big contributor to seasonal depression. One of the best ways to cope with depression this winter is to make it a habit to soak in some sunshine every day, even if it’s brief. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends spending time by a window where light can come through, or outside in the sun to alleviate the winter blues. For FAU students, this could mean walking to the dining hall for lunch or completing coursework under the banyan tree on campus.

Once the sun sets, there are options to keep symptoms at bay. Bright light therapy is a common and effective way to treat seasonal depression according to Dr. Michael Craig Miller in an article for Harvard Health Publishing.

He describes light therapy as, “sitting close to a special “light box” for 30 minutes a day, usually as soon after waking up as possible.” Don’t look directly at the box though, as it contains 10,000 lux, which is “100 times brighter than indoor lighting,” Dr. Miller said.

A light box is small enough to fit comfortably inside a dorm room, which makes it perfect for college students. Choosing the right light box is important, so make sure you explore your options before purchasing yours.

Another way to combat depression this winter is to maintain contact with close friends and family. While it can be difficult in the middle of a pandemic, technology can assist with keeping up relationships. 

Make it a priority to call your loved ones, as it can raise your spirits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail,” an article from the CDC said.

To schedule a Zoom session with CAPS, students can call (561) 297-3540.

Kendall Little is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @klittlewrites.