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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Counseling Services Team Up to Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder


Bellingham’s short and dreary winter days can have a real impact on the mental health of it’s residents. In response, different university counseling resources are trying to provide options to combat a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Beat the Blues was a joint effort between the Counseling Center, the Disability Outreach Center and BRAVE, Western’s suicide prevention group to provide therapeutic outlets and professional counseling help for students.

On Monday, Jan 9, around 230 students visited the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room for free food, therapy dogs, craft tables and counseling.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is often seen during the winter months, according to an information sheet available at the event.

Kasandra Church, suicide prevention coordinator at the Counseling Center, said it’s important to make mental health an easy, approachable topic to discuss.

“This is a really important event for us because it raises awareness around mental health and breaks down some of the stigma that goes along with soliciting mental health services,” Church said. “Our attempt today here is to make things like screening for depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder something that’s very comfortable and easy for students.”

There are several methods of treating SAD, according to the event’s handout. Some of these can be done on one’s own, like taking walks in the daylight and being active socially.

Another common way to treat SAD is through light therapy. Certain lights, called SAD lamps or happy lamps, can mimic the sun and help people’s symptoms, according to the handout.

Western has two such lamps, one in the Wellness Outreach Center in The Viking Union 432 and the Student Health Center. The event’s coordinators gave away three lamps in a raffle.

Ian Vincent, the men’s resiliency specialist at the Counseling Center, helped coordinate professional mental health resources at the event.

“Students are coming in today to fill out questionnaires about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and to meet privately with a member of the counseling center staff, clinical faculty from the psychology department or Prevention and Wellness Services,” Vincent said.

Another focus of the event was to decrease the stigma of mental health issues and make it more comfortable for people to seek help.

“People often feel shame, they’re afraid to reach out for mental health services. I don’t think it’s necessarily unique to campus,” Church said. “I think in some ways this generation is a little bit more open to the idea of seeing counselors but there is in our society a tremendous amount of stigma associated with seeking others for mental help.”

This is not the first time Western had done an awareness event about SAD.

“I believe the first one was last year,” Vincent said. “And now it’s turning into an annual event. Usually this sort of seasonal affectiveness events happen in the fall but we decided to have them in winter due to Bellingham’s more extreme weather conditions.”

More information and health resources can be found at the Counseling Center available in Old Main 540, online, or at 360-650-3164.



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