Alaskan winters wrought with depression

With the oncoming winter months spreading their tendrils of darkness and cold among Alaskans as we sleep, depression starts to make its presence known. The long days of darkness coupled with the hibernation designed to keep out the cold combine to make a deadly recipe for a case of the blues. In fact, Alaska has the highest suicide rate in the nation, and is in the top tier of states with the highest population of depressed individuals.

For every 100,000 people, Alaska sees 23.1 suicides. This is a staggering number when compared to the national average of just 11.3 people, according to a study compiled by Mental Health America and Thomson Healthcare in 2007.

Alaskans are said to suffer from especially severe cases of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). As the name suggests, SAD is a case of depression dependent upon the weather. For Alaskans, this means the dark gloom of the sky can reflect their emotions, and for already sleep-deprived college students, depression runs high.

Georgia DeKeyser, the associate director of UAA’s Counseling Center, has observed this SAD in action. Since she started working here in 1998, DeKeyser has seen an increase in the amount of UAA student that seek counseling services during the winter months.

“Winters in Alaska are very challenging for a number of different reasons,” DeKeyser explained while emphasizing a number of main symptoms associated with SAD. These include an unhealthy increase in appetite (craving carbohydrates), loss of energy, apathy, difficulty concentrating, and an overall feeling of heaviness. But not everyone who feels these during the winter should be alarmed.

“The symptoms need to be present over at least three consecutive winters to make a diagnosis,” DeKeyser clarified.

While counseling is certainly a clinical approach to combating the effects of SAD, The Daily Mind, a website specializing in eastern medicine, offers five homegrown remedies to relieve the winter gloom. These include spending more time outside to soak up any extra sunlight possible, exercising frequently to help the body feel better, trying the much-needed caffeine in green tea instead of coffee, eating more fruit, and trying to be aware if you are suffering from depression.

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The article stresses that if you are aware of your declining state of mind you have a better chance of successfully getting rid of the blues.

Earlier this month, the UAA Student Health and Counseling Center paired up with the Psychological Services to host a National Depression Screening Day. These fairs that were held around campus offered free screening to students about whether or not they should seek treatment for any depression symptoms. The Counseling Center still offers these screenings in their facility, and they are free to students taking six credits or more. Or if you cannot come into the Counseling Center, the same screening is available on their website.  The screenings are series of questions, designed to determine whether or not the person is suffering from symptoms of depression.

So while many Alaskans resemble Eeyore during the snowy months, with their own personal dark clouds overhead, there are ways to avoid the rain. And if things get too rough on the high seas, remember those professionals eager to help. Buckle up. It’s going to be a long winter.