Published: Jan. 23, 2015

By Alexander Martinez, senior, Peer Educator with Counseling and Psychological Services

Welcome to the fourth issue of How to Help a Friend (HHF). HHF aims to provide students with information and resources on a variety of mental health topics, and to interact with and support the CU-Boulder community through monthly events and articles in CU-Boulder Today.

As we embark on another semester, I wanted to address something relevant to the winter months that frequently has some misconceptions surrounding it: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The most common misconception about SAD is that it’s just the “winter blues”, people feeling bummed because of the weather; however, SAD is much more than that. People with SAD suffer from a seasonal pattern of depression, meaning that they experience depression at a particular time of the year, but are otherwise symptom free for the rest of the year.

Symptoms can include but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of interest in normal activities
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Hopelessness
  • Increased sleep
  • Sluggish movements

Winter-onset SAD is thought be to be linked to the shorter daylight hours, as well as darker days, while summer-onset SAD is linked to longer daylight hours and brighter days. Our bodies respond to sunlight by changing hormonal and neurotransmitter levels and so these seasonal changes can lead to chemical imbalances. As such, treatment of winter-onset SAD is often centered on increasing exposure to sunlight including:

  • Going for a walk during the day.
  • Arranging your home and work space to maximize sunlight.
  • Using specially designed lamps that work to alleviate symptoms of SAD by mimicking sunlight with very bright lights.

While light therapy alone does prove effective for some, it’s not enough for everyone. In addition to having a balanced diet and exercising daily, antidepressant medication and psychotherapy, with or without light therapy, has also proven effective in treating symptoms of SAD.

The most important thing you can do for a friend that you think may be experiencing SAD is to validate their experience as well as to recognize that they’re dealing with these potentially debilitating symptoms and that they don’t have the ability to simply cheer up. Suggest that they take a Depression Screening and, if warranted, that they seek some help with a mental health professional. Your friend may not have heard of light therapy, so encourage them to look into it. Depression in any form can be a monster, and no one should have to fight it alone.


  • How to Help a Friend - Want more information on SAD or other topics? Worried about someone? This is a peer-to-peer resource to help students help each other.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) - A free counseling resource for CU-Boulder students. CAPS offers six free individual therapy sessions per academic year and free workshops and groups. They have walk-in hours M-F, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. They are located at the Center for Community (C4C) in S440. Phone (24 Hour Line): 303-492-6766.
  • Psychological Health and Psychiatry (PHP) - PHP is a multidisciplinary university clinic including staff from the fields of social work, nursing, psychology, psychiatry and counseling. The clinic's aim is to provide the highest quality psychological health services in a time-efficient, clinically sound and sensitive manner, so that no student is turned away from receiving care. Students who have purchased the CU Student Gold Health Insurance are seen in the clinic without additional payment. Students without the Student Gold Health Insurance may be seen on a fee-for-service basis. Call 303-492-5654 to schedule an appointment.

CAPS Events/Groups:

  • Stress Breaks – Feeling stressed out? Overwhelmed? Stress Break is a relaxation program provided for CU-Boulder students by trained volunteers from CAPS. The volunteers provide quick tips in managing stress and then guide students through a relaxation exercise. Stress Break volunteers are available to come to residence halls, student groups, Greek chapters, classes, meetings, academic departments and anywhere that stressed-out students can be found. To request a Stress Break, please click here. Dr. Kenli Urruty will be in contact with you.
  • How To Help a Friend Get Together – Join us for tea and snacks. If you have questions about resources or just want to stop by to say hello, you can find us every 3rd Tuesday of the month from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. at the Foyer (near the Norlin Commons Information Desk) at the Norlin Library. The next How to Help a Friend Get Together will be on Tuesday Jan. 27, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the Norlin Library (we’ll be back to the 3rd Tuesday in February).
  • Tai Chi – This class will utilize Tai Chi exercises as a way to release stress and increase a sense of calmness. It is intended to facilitate physical and psychological wellness, as well as to increase your awareness of how stress impacts your daily life, health and emotional well-being. Mondays from noon – 1 p.m., January – Apr. 27 in C4C room S350.
  • Feel Good Fridays – Need a break? Want to unwind before the weekend? This drop-in group is an opportunity to be led through a powerful guided meditation to undo your stress, soothe your nervous system and feel good. Please arrive on time so the meditation is not disturbed - there will be no late admittance. You are encouraged to bring materials for your personal comfort and to aid in your meditation, e.g., yoga mat, small cushion or pillow. All groups will take place at the CU Art Museum in the Visual Arts Complex on Fridays from 12:15 – 12:45 p.m., Jan. 16 – May. 1. No session on Feb. 27.