Yellow & Green meets Gray & the Blues
Winter Quarter. Eugene, Oregon. Rain… cloudy… more rain… still cloudy. On the occasional good day, it might still be partly cloudy. Add significantly shorter days to that grayness. On January 5th, the first day of the term, there were only 9 hours between sunrise and sunset! Less if your student tends to sleep in till nine or ten in the morning.
U of O Forecast: increased chance of winter blues. Mix in an environment of high stress levels, lack of sleep, separation from friends and family, and temptations to escape with alcohol… and you have a recipe for depression.
So how can you tell the difference if your student is depressed or just has the winter-time blues?
We all have times when we feel down. And here at the U of O, the burden of a heavy academic load can bring about heightened stress. Add in the weather, and it can be quite normal to feel down, exhausted, or worried this term. If it’s the blues, the gloomy feelings usually pass and your student will still experience happy times. However, sometimes the sad feelings don’t go away. If your student has been feeling miserable more often than not over the past two weeks or more, and they’ve stopped enjoying things that used to be fun, they might be depressed.
Here are some signs to keep an eye on. Your student…
- Finds it hard to get motivated and feel interested in things
- Wants to avoid friends and everyday activities
- Has difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Loses interest in eating, or is overeating
- Loses weight, without dieting, or gains weight
- Finds it difficult to get to sleep, wakes up during the night, or wakes too early and is not able to get back to sleep. Alternatively, wants to sleep all the time.
- Substantially increases use of alcohol and other substances
- Has unpleasant, negative thoughts (like feeling guilty or that they are a bad or unworthy person)
- Gets pains in their body or headaches that don’t seem to have any physical cause
- Thinks about suicide
What if it’s just the blues? What if it’s depression?
In either case, it may be useful for your student to discuss their concerns and low mood with a counselor. Here at the University Counseling Center, we encourage students to come in for assistance before little problems become big ones. This is the best way to prevent or minimize disruption of their academic studies.
What can you do as a parent?
- Listening Is Critical: Pay attention to behavior changes in your student. This can be tricky to do, especially from afar, but the key is to look for unusual changes in the way your student is acting, responding, or interacting with others. These may be signs that something is wrong.
- Encourage your student to take care of themselves: Regular exercise is one of the most effective remedies for the blues- and clinical depression. The Student Recreation Center is a great resource to take advantage of, and regular walks outside (despite the clouds) will increase exposure to natural light.
- Encourage your student to make/maintain connections with others: It’s common for students to isolate themselves when they’re feeling blue or depressed. Keep in touch with your student via phone or email, and encourage them to stay in touch with friends or join an intramural team or student club.
- Your feelings about counseling will influence your student’s: If your student is struggling with depression, be aware that you may influence whether they seek counseling to help them deal with the problem. Sharing the fact that there's no weakness in seeking counseling to get through a period of the blues or depression can, in a subtle way, influence your child to get help if they ever need it.
At the U of O, surviving long stretches of gray, dreary days often becomes part of the Duck identity, even a point of pride for some. In fact, increased campus awareness of the potential for winter blues means there are many other people actively seeking ways to combat the purgatory of rain and gray. However, if there is ever any question about whether your student is experiencing a significant dip in mood, the blues, or potentially depression, encourage them to visit us here at the University Counseling and Testing Center. We can help figure out what might be going on, and help your student strategize ways to turn grays and blues back into yellows and greens.
Chris Ruiz de Esparza, M.A.