UVU Mental Health Services Helps Students Through Seasonal Affective Disorder

UVU’s Mental Health Services focuses on providing its students with the support and resources they need to be mentally healthy while pursuing an education.


How do you work through seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the winter months when isolation, the very thing that can heighten symptoms of depression, is the product of a year-long-and-counting pandemic? UVU’s Mental Health Services focuses on providing its students with the support and resources they need to be mentally healthy while pursuing an education.

While college students aren’t statistically more or less likely to be diagnosed with SAD, the two most common reasons students seek help from UVU’s Mental Health Services are for depression and anxiety.

“Many mental health conditions develop while young adults are living on their own, experiencing new and sometimes more difficult stresses, and  having less contact with friends and family that were part of their social support network in high school,” said Dr. Nick Top, staff therapist at UVU’s Student Health Services. “If students have strong friendships and social networks, they are less likely to be impaired by SAD, whereas students who are more isolated seem to be more impaired.”

Symptoms of SAD are similar to clinical depression, and, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, they include at least five of the following symptoms for a period of at least two weeks during the winter months (typically October to March):

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite; usually eating more or craving carbohydrates
  • Change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, hand-wringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable to others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide*

While the days are short, the fall and winter months seem to drag on. In order to curb the development of SAD, Top recommends four things to all UVU students:

  1. Spend at least 15-30 minutes a day in direct sunlight (either outside or in front of an open window)
  2. Exercise frequently in order to effectively regulate mood throughout the year
  3. Have a regulated sleep schedule that includes 7-9 hours of sleep each night
  4. Regularly engage in positive, valued, and personally meaningful activities

“Just as students use their schedule or planner to organize their work and school responsibilities, it is important for students to schedule time to engage in positive activities like reading, exercising, spending time with friends and family, or engaging in a hobby,” Top said.

And for students that feel they need help with their mental well-being, UVU’s Mental Health Services offers various forms of support and therapy.

“Students experiencing SAD are likely to benefit from individual or group therapy,” Top said. “Studies have shown group and individual therapy to be equally effective for treating anxiety and depression. In fact, for students experiencing a greater sense of social isolation or difficult relationships with others, group therapy is a fantastic treatment option.”

For students interested in signing up or learning more about the group therapy offered to students, visit the group therapy portion of the Mental Health Services website. Other mental health support and service options are also available on their website. Due to COVID-19, Student Health Services is operating under modified conditions but still available to students.

* If you feel you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, call 911, the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255, or use the SafeUT app. UVU Student Health Services have crisis therapists that are available Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.