The Health and Wellness Center is taking new mea­sures to combat Michigan winter blues.The center recently pur­chased a sun lamp as a therapy for the treatment of Sea­sonal Affective Dis­order, which affects stu­dents during the short, dark days of the winter months.
Brock Lutz, director of health ser­vices, said via email that the symptoms of SAD are basi­cally the symptoms of depression — hope­lessness, fatigue, phys­i­o­logical lethargy, sleeping a lot, dif­fi­culty focusing — but they man­ifest at certain times of the year, usually fall or winter, and remit in spring .

SAD is a type of depression that results from a change in envi­ron­mental light, shorter and darker days, and not enough vitamin D. Many SAD patients are women, but it can also affect men. Research has shown that light therapy is an effective way to replenish vitamin D and alle­viate such symptoms, Lutz said.

“So, our thought is: if light therapy can alle­viate some of these symptoms, then let’s make it available,” Lutz said.
Nurse Carol Drews said that vitamin D is essential for the body. It can relieve stress, reset the sleep cycle if used early in the morning, and keep down cor­tisol levels, which con­tributes to weight gain. She said vitamin D releases the “feel good” chemical sero­tonin in the brain.

“It is sero­tonin in the brain that we get after a good run, a piece of chocolate, or being in love,” Drews said.
The center pur­chased one lamp because a number of stu­dents seem to suffer from SAD symptoms. Lutz has referred several stu­dents to the light therapy, and, if there is a pos­itive response, they may pur­chase more for the health center or even for some of the dorms. “There may be stu­dents who suffer from SAD because the sun dis­ap­pears a lot around here some­times and for whom light therapy would be an effective treatment,” Lutz said.

He rec­om­mends the person sit in front of the lamp for 20 to 30 minutes every day, preferably during the morning hours, because soaking up the rays later in the day can interrupt the sleep cycle. The lamps can be bought for less than $150 on sites like Amazon, but should be pur­chased at 10,000 lux wattage, the rec­om­mended ther­a­peutic dosage. Lamps under 10,000 lux have been shown not to alle­viate SAD symptoms as effec­tively.

Drews said there is no cost to use the lamps, and the health center has wi­fi and coffee for stu­dents while they get their daily dose of vitamin D. Stu­dents can do homework, use elec­tronics or use relax­ation software while in front of the lamps. There is a sheet in the health center where stu­dents can sign up to use the lamp after a brief ori­en­tation.
Lutz said that although light therapy is the most common treatment for winter depression, other mea­sures can be taken to fight SAD.
“Talking to someone about these symptoms is important to make sure it isn’t a more serious type of depression and to learn to deal with life when it gets chal­lenging (as it usually will),” Lutz said.
Lutz also said exer­cising daily for 45 minutes and main­taining a healthy diet are key com­po­nents of com­bating SAD.
“Most people would benefit from vitamin D in the winter,” Drews said. “This is a way to trick our bodies. This is the non­medicinal way to get rid of winter blahs. It’s just good med­icine.”

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Emma Vinton
A senior and English major from Brighton, Michigan, this is Emma’s second year as assistant editor of the Features page for the Collegian. She has interned as a writer and editor at Faith Magazine in Lansing and at Family Research Council in Washington D.C. doing research on marriage and family issues. She enjoys writing about culture, literature, and religion. This is her sixth semester contributing to the Collegian.