12-hour naps and depression lamps: my experience with seasonal depression in college

Illustration by Kelsey Mason

My nightstand is covered in empty water bottles and mugs. Late homework assignments are piled up on Canvas. I’m asleep by 8 p.m. every night, my hair hasn’t been washed in a week and I haven’t eaten a real meal in just about as long. 

This isn’t a hypothetical me in a hypothetical situation. This is exactly how my winter went last year —  and the year before, and the year before that. In fact, this winter is the first year that I haven’t experienced severe seasonal depression since halfway through middle school. 

Seasonal depression is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as “A type of depression characterized by a recurrent seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about 4−5 months out of the year.” According to the NIMH, the symptoms of seasonal depression often look similar to the typically discussed signs of depression, such as persistent sad or anxious mood, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, loss of interest in hobbies or activities, decreased energy, oversleeping or overeating. 

This drop in mood and energy during the winter occurs because of a link between the decreased sunlight and a drop in a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin affects mood, and lower levels of this neurotransmitter have been linked with depression. 

Seasonal depression is incredibly challenging for anyone to face. For a college student with multiple classes to attend, homework and exams to complete and potentially a job or extracurricular activities to go to, dealing with seasonal depression can be an especially difficult task. 

As someone who’s dealt with seasonal depression since I was approximately 12 — and who is turning 20 this year — I would say I’m something of an expert on the subject — sort of. 

For a long time, the way I felt in the winter was definitely inconvenient, but it wasn’t truly “disrupting” my day-to-day life. I got all my homework done, hung out with my friends and did my chores. I was also numb the whole day, completely dissociated and asleep by 8 p.m. 

This completely changed when I got to college. For the first time in my life, I was in an entirely  different state with no parents and no friends. I was hopeful going into my first semester at University of Utah but as the weather started changing, I quickly went downhill. 

To make a long story short, my mental health deteriorated and my grades dropped to the point that my parents and I decided it was best for me to come back to Idaho. At this point, I felt completely defeated but there was no way for me to manage living in another state, working, paying my bills, trying to make friends and doing full-time classes on top of all of that. 

Although the winter still takes a toll on me, during my time back in my hometown attending  Boise State, I’ve been able to find ways to cope with how cold weather affects me. Reaching out to loved ones when I’m not doing well, going to therapy and just forcing myself to get out of the house for a couple of hours at a time are all ways I’ve found to lessen the intensity of the depression I experience.

I am not alone in the situation I faced and am still facing today. According to the University of Texas Medical Branch, about 10 million Americans experience seasonal depression every year. Among these people, college students are in a particularly difficult position. 

If you or another student you know are experiencing mental health issues this winter, utilize the resources that Boise State University offers to students, and remember that the days are already starting to get longer. 

University Health Services Counseling


(208) 426-1459
National Behavioral Health Crisis Line: Text or call 988

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