For many students, the beginning of the semester can be more stressful than exciting. The transition from vacation can be difficult, especially after the holidays and during the harsh Maine winter. Often these feelings of depression and anxiety are more than just a case of the “winter blues.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression directly impacted by the seasons. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, SAD “is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, usually in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year.”
SAD is thought to be caused mostly due to less exposure to light. It occurs most frequently in young women, though anyone can be impacted. Some symptoms include the inability to make decisions, anxiousness, sleep problems, lack of energy and low self-esteem.
The Counseling Center at the University of Maine offers a variety of services and programs that promote the psychological well-being of students, including the Mind Spa. The Mind Spa, located in the Memorial Union is a place where students can learn different ways to relax and manage stress. The center offers a variety of calming activities including guided meditation, coloring and even a UV lamp for students to sit under. Exposure to bright light is a recommended treatment for SAD, as it provides a balanced spectrum light comparable to spending a day in the outdoors. The Mind Spa is open Tuesday through to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and also offers training for both staff and students about a variety of mental health related topics, including SAD.
Emily, a third-year education student who asked to have her last name withheld, credits the Mind Spa for helping her learn to cope with the stresses of school and everyday life.
“I had my first panic attack last semester and I honestly thought I was dying. I never knew that something in your head could feel like that,” Emily said. “About a week later I happened to walk by the Mind Spa between classes, so I thought I’d check it out. I don’t know how I would have made it through finals without it. I don’t feel as worried going into this semester now that I have this resource.”
Emily is not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 75 percent will experience their first episode by age 22.
With the stress of school at a time where college students are making important life decisions, these feelings are anything but uncommon. A 2008 study published by the ADAA found that 35 percent of college students had felt depressed within the last three months.
The Mind Spa will host an open house on Wednesday, Jan. 27 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for those who would like to learn more and see what the Mind Spa can do for them.