Nineteen and Pregnant

[natalie]Natalie Archambault walks a bit slower these days. She wears her hair in a ponytail to class three days a week and attends her Army National Guard drills once a month. She goes out on the weekends with friends, but she doesn’t drink and usually she ends up tired and crawling into bed around 11 p.m. She is struggling, like most students, to bring her GPA up a few points before the semester ends. But there’s something that separates her from most other women her age – she only has a handful of weeks before she becomes a mother.
Natalie walks into the restaurant a few minutes late, but it is one of those freakishly winter-esque days in April, topping off at about twenty degrees below the normal temperature for this time of year. She is bundled up in a winter coat, scarf wrapped around her neck and this far along in her pregnancy, a large bump protrudes from her middle.
One morning last October, when Archambault peeked at the pink and white stick resting on the bathroom counter, she knew he life would never be the same. The purple line, as faint as it was, locked in her future as a mother. She thought what any teenage girl would think in her situation. Oh shit. She has just turned 20, and is still in the midst of her college career. Along with all of that, she has the U.S. Army beckoning at will to send her into war.
Looking over the menu, she remarks on how good pizza sounds, it\’s one of her favorite foods. She says she hasn’t had much in the way of weird food cravings, maybe chocolate, but who doesn’t like chocolate she asks. Since regaining an appetite after her first trimester, she has been able to stick to her normal diet.
Archambault, an elementary education sophomore, is expecting her first child, a girl whom she and her boyfriend, Aaron, have already named Addison, on June 28. The pregnancy, although unintended, is certainly an awaited joy for both families. My family was a bit shocked at first, my mom didn’t really believe me, but eventually they got really excited about it,\” Archambault said. \”Aaron’s family was really excited to begin with because he’s a few years older than me so I think they were more ready for the news.”
Archambault met Aaron while attending basic training last year. The couple, both members of the Army National Guard, became inseparable and are now in the pre-planning stages of a wedding. “Things could definitely be a lot worse,” she said. “I am very lucky because I have a lot of support with my friends and family. Without them, I know I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
In the U.S., about four out of 10 girls under the age of 20 become pregnant, according to a 1996 study conducted by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The institute also reports that about 40 percent of pregnancies with 18-19 year old mothers are accidental. The number drops to about 26 percent for those 20-24 years of age. Nearly half of these unplanned pregnancies end in abortion for these two age groups.
[pills]Abortion was never an option for Archambault. She personally doesn’t agree with it, so she knew she had to figure out how to manage being pregnant in college. She had been on birth control for a few years, but with the rising prices of the pills, she stopped taking them. The price hikes she saw were the result of a Republican-sponsored and supported bill called the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. This bill focused largely on Medicaid, requiring the manufacturers of birth control pills to pay more to participate and since most of the manufacturers gave the pills high market areas like college campuses at a reduced price, they had to raise those prices. A study by the American College Health Association showed that a mere 39 percent of undergrads take oral contraceptives, compared to the estimated 80 percent that are engaging in sexual intercourse. While recognizing that business is business, Archambault still thinks that something should be done to keep the pills at a low price, she said, especially with college kids, because they don’t always make the best of choices.
Archambault certainly feels the cost of the choice that she made. While finishing off her second piece of pizza, topped with pepperoni and sausage, she recalls the stress she endured at the beginning of her pregnancy. I tried to hide it for a little while, at least at school,\” she recalled. \”I didn’t want to tell anyone. I was afraid of what my professors would think.”
Archambault struggled through her fall semester, nearly failing out of school. She suffered from not only morning sickness, but all-day sickness. “I was nauseated, achy, I felt like I was going to vomit at all times,” she said. She had trouble sitting through an entire lecture with the overwhelming feeling. “I literally wanted to die. It was such a horrible time.”
The sickness subsided around Christmas time. \”It was getting pretty bad,\” she recalled. \”I couldn’t keep anything down. I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.\” Her pregnancy sickness caused her to be placed on academic probation for the spring semester and she has since put forth a tremendous effort to raise her grades. I’m doing pretty well now,\” she said. \”I’ve gotten used to how it feels so I can sit through a class and pay attention.
Archambault is glad Addison is due after spring semester is over. “It worked out well because I’m due over the summer, so I’ll have some time before school starts up again to adjust,\” she said.
[heart]To make the transition a bit easier, she is planning to move back home so her parents can help out with the new baby. “I’m planning on going back to school in the fall, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do the commute [to MSU],” she said. She plans on taking classes at U of M – Flint.
Unlike many women who find themselves pregnant during their college years, Archambault is somewhat lucky because the army is responsible for footing her education expenses. “It’s a great perk,” she said, “but it’s also pretty scary when there’s the possibility that I could get called to go to Iraq as soon as my maternity leave is over.”
Despite the unknown future, Archambault has no regrets. Looking back on everything up to this point, Archambault said, \”I wouldn’t change a thing.\” She gave a smile that only adds to her sincerity and excitement at becoming a new mother. \”Everyone has been so supportive and I really just can’t wait to meet her.\” With the oncoming addition to her family, Archambault still feels her education is a top priority. “School is very important to me,” she added. “I know I’m going to need this degree to get the kind of job I want. No matter how long it takes me, I will graduate.”

Posted in Sex & HealthComments (0)

Cheatin\’ Hearts

[heart2]Kyle Feldscher has had his heart stolen. Little did he know that it would also be ripped apart and thrown back at him in a gory tangle of muscle and blood. Feldscher, a journalism freshman, is one of the many victims of a disheartening trend that occurs among many young adults with a wandering eye: he was cheated on.
Feldscher\’s girlfriend of four months decided to stray from their commitment, leaving him to find out the truth through a friend. Although apologizing and regretting what she had done, Feldscher ended their relationship and has since been skeptical of finding true love. \”I thought that we were a good thing and could have been better,\” he said. \”I guess she felt differently, so it has kind of ruined women for me since. But it just made me realize that it really isn\’t worth it to let one person hold your heart like that and have the ability to do what they want with it.\”
Infidelity seems to be everywhere we turn. America\’s media descend like vultures on any politician, religious figure or celebrity that has fumbled in the ways of monogamy. The same story is told; America bestows its hateful judgment and the offender is considered despicable, sex-crazed and downright sick. Solutions are offered. Rehab? A public apology? An outreach for sympathy claiming a severe disease?
While we crave public scandals of infidelity and feed on every new e-mail and recorded phone call, what we don\’t hear about is the normal, everyday John, or Jane, Doe that stray. Life in the public eye certainly has its temptations, but public life is just an illuminated version of private life. Cheating is not reserved to Las Vegas and otherwise filthy motel rooms we are accustomed to hearing about. Cheating occurs in our neighborhoods, in our schools and in our workplaces. It affects just about everyone at least once in their lives, whether being the cheater or the cheated, and most people don\’t have agents and public relations teams to help improve their damaged image.
Divorce rates in the U.S. are bordering the 50 percent range, with cheating being one of the top causes. If the sanctity of marriage isn\’t so sanctified anymore, why do people continue to dive into the marriage abyss? Their lives are flipped upside down, emotions are stretched to capacity, houses are sold, property divided, children split between parents, and a whole stream of money problems are born. More importantly, the love once shared along with their future has gone down the drain. \”Til-death-do-you-part\” has now become \”til-you-hire-a-good-lawyer-do-you-part.\”
[kyle2]The rate of infidelity, while occurring in a minority amount of marriages, is still large enough to wonder why monogamy is put on such a high pedestal. Social learning may hold the answer. From birth, infants are given gender identities that shape their behavior as they develop into adults. Girls are given dolls and taught how to be good mothers, while playing house with Barbie and Ken, fantasizing about their rich, successful, loving husband and their dream house. Boys are taught to be boys. Rough play and the ignorance of sentimental feelings. But as these children enter their adolescent phase, they are confronted with opposing values. Teens begin to practice the idea of monogamy, often failing miserably with no real consequences. Break-ups are normal and relationships can be ended as easily as sending a text message. Yet with these experiences, they learn that the social norm is to eventually fall in love with one person and spend their life together… Happily ever after.
The aspiration of monogamy is not new. From the beginning of man and woman, there is evidence of a polygynous lifestyle. Biologically speaking, men are made to be able to spread their genes for the utmost survival rate – if they wanted to, they could impregnate infinite women a year. Women, on the other hand, only have the capacity to carry one child per year spanning their fertile years. Therefore, women are subjected to the idea that quality outweighs quantity in a partner and are destined to invest in someone that will provide emotional and economic stability for their children. Once the fathers figured out that sticking around to one set of offspring was crucial to their survival, monogamy was born.
There are opposing biological factors dealing with a person\’s social behavior, increasing the likelihood for monogamy. Oxytocin, a hormone released in the brain during orgasms is associated with socializing and relationship bonding. Studies have shown higher concentrations of oxytocin in people claiming to be in love. Judson McKee, a 2004 MSU graduate and current Master\’s student in Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Miami advocates oxytocin\’s role in bonding. \”Evolutionary psychologists believed that it was developed to ensure that in the early days of humanity that the parents became strongly attached to their child so that they wouldn\’t abandon it, therefore ensuring the propagation of our species.\”
Modern society has begun to defy this theory. Today, women are expected to join the workforce. The idea of staying home to raise children is becoming less and less appealing. Gender equality is rearing its ugly head at the defenseless woman. Cheaters can come in all shapes and sizes. There\’s no particular demographic that tops the unfaithful charts, but a survey from the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center found that the more money a person makes, the more likely they are to have an affair. The study also showed higher infidelity rates among those who are either poorly educated, or have gone beyond the college level. While the claim that men are more likely to cheat often holds true, women are gaining clout among the cheating crowd, especially in non-married couples without children. High school and college settings remain the breeding grounds for wandering eyes. At no other time in a lifespan is a person surrounded by members of the opposite sex in such close quarters, especially in college without the restrictions of parental rules.
Feldscher felt the sting of infidelity while still in high school. \”It hurt a lot at the time,\” Feldscher said, \”but I eventually got over it. I felt betrayed, but a girl like her wasn\’t worth dwelling on.\” Since entering college, he has remained single and happily so. He doesn\’t oppose monogamy, but stays away from the idea by not committing to a serious relationship.
Feldscher\’s bad experience is just one case of love gone wrong, but not all hope is lost for sustaining meaningful relationships in the often unrealistic society of college. Carly Selleck, a political science-prelaw senior, has been in a relationship throughout her college years. For the past two years, she and her boyfriend have lived together. With the idea of marriage dangling in the unknown distant future, they remain a happily monogamous couple. \”I think communication and friendship are the most important things to maintaining a relationship,\” Selleck said. The self-proclaimed best friends have been dating for three years after meeting at a party on campus.
[couple2]While Selleck still admits to getting a bit jealous every now and then, she finds the hardest part of having a long-term monogamous relationship is spending time with other friends. \”It\’s hard to go out with your friends, especially when they\’re single,\” Selleck said. \”They\’ll be out looking to get laid, so it\’s hard to just go out and have fun with them.\”
Remaining single during the college years may seem to be a smart idea. Going through a break up can add tremendous amounts of stress to the already demanding life of students. But when the plunge is taken into the world of couple-hood, measures need to be taken to ensure fidelity. There are two types of cheating; emotional and sexual. Studies show that women are more hurt by \”emotional cheating,\” while men are upset when their partner commits \”sexual cheating.\” Women tend to want an emotional bond with their man, something he could not possibly get with another woman. And even though sexual cheating is also very harmful to a relationship, it is more easily forgivable – boys will be boys, right? – when there is no emotional attachment created. Men, on the other hand, feel more defiled when their partner engages in sexual activity with someone else – a hit below the belt to any man with a hint of insecurity about his masculinity.
Selleck doesn\’t understand why some people resort to cheating on their significant other. \”I think some people cheat just because they\’re stupid,\” she said. \”Maybe they don\’t realize what the consequences will be and don\’t realize how far they\’re getting into something until it\’s too late.\” Especially today, with college students addicted to their personal social networks of MySpace and Facebook, it is almost impossible not to have dishonest thoughts. Further, it isn\’t just the act of cheating that initiates a relationship gone wrong. She believes the prospect of cheating on someone begins when two people decide to start dating for the wrong reasons. \”If you\’re just dating someone to have sex with them, it\’s not going to last.\”
Sure, no one enters a \”serious\” relationship with solely sexual intentions, hence the adoption of the \”friends with benefits\” term so widely used to describe two people of mutual understanding on the emotional limits of their relationship. Sometimes this can work out great for each partner, but often times the oxytocin takes its toll and emotions enter the scene.
Jen Mitchell, a health communication senior, thinks monogamous relationships during college are a waste of time. \”There\’s way too many people to meet out there to just spend time with one person,\” she said. \”I think you learn a lot more about yourself when you interact with more people.\” Mitchell suggests that college life is a natural part of developing as a person, set as a transitional phase between meaningless adolescent \”going out\” and the full-on commitment of marriage. \”This is when you learn who you are and what you want out of life,\” she said. \”Unless you plan on marrying the person you\’re with, what\’s the point of being with them when you know it\’ll end eventually anyway? It\’s bad practice for marriage.\”
Mitchell\’s question brings up a good point. When the norm is to have a succession of relationships that can and do end without much regret, how does our society expect marriage to last over time?
\”If you want to stick to those values you were raised with that you should be with one person and one person only, that\’s great. Good luck to you,\” Mitchell said. \”But for me, I choose to not even bother with monogamy until I\’m ready to settle down.\”
Feldscher shares his feelings about monogamy with Mitchell. \”Two people really need to love each other to keep a healthy relationship in college,\” he said, \”if only because there are so many people out there to meet. It\’s really just not a good idea to me; a whole lot of stress and commitment that I don\’t need.\” But Feldscher remains optimistic about his future relationships. \”If I find the right girl that restores my faith in women then sure, but until then I just want to have a good time.\”

Posted in Sex & HealthComments (0)

Fight or Flight?

[mosque]\”Is it worth it?\”
The question floats around nonchalantly, but after taking a good look at the consequences of putting countless lives on the line for the so-called \”liberation\” of another country\’s people, the question must be addressed.
Lew Dodak, former Michigan House Speaker and State Representative, posed the rhetorical question. Dodak, who as a young man growing up on a farm in Birch Run, Mich., was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 and spent a year fighting the Viet Cong in Pleiku, knows a thing or two about the cost of war. As part of the 25th Infantry Division, Dodak spent 234 consecutive days in combat, breaking an army record. When he returned to the states, frustrated with the war, he decided to get involved with politics. \”I didn\’t want my kids to go through what I went through,\” Dodak said. \”I know a lot of young people that died for nothing, in my opinion. I had a bitter feeling toward the experience, of how the politicians handled the situation.\”
Dodak is concerned about the current war in Iraq. Though accusations of Iraq being \”the new Vietnam\” have surfaced, he maintains their differences. \”We\’re in a situation worse than Vietnam, we can\’t get out of it,\” he said. \”The minute we leave, there\’s going to be civil war.\”
This month, the war we conceived in Iraq turns a troubled four years old and leaves many Americans wondering why the country cannot yet fend for itself. It is not simply defined as to who is right and who is wrong. The truth is we are at war. Beyond that, the lines get fuzzy. Who are we fighting? Iraq? Terrorism? The Shi\’as? Those who wish to stop our innate desire to dominate the eastern world? [vietnam]
The violence in Iraq and throughout the Middle East stems back generation upon generation. A simplified version has the competing Muslim groups, the Sunnis and Shi\’as, in a civil war. After the U.S. invasion in 2003, tensions have only grown as Iraqis feel they are undergoing occupation, colonialism and cultural assimilation. Iraqi insurgents, comprised of Baathists (Hussein\’s Party), Nationalists, Sunni Extremists and Shi\’a Militias, have turned Iraq into a hellish zone of warfare.
The war has taken its toll on both troops and civilians alike. The current American troop death toll has surpassed 3,000 and continues to climb daily. The British are now leaving, and with the miniscule amounts of troops other countries provide, it seems as if Americans\’ beloved allies are disintegrating. Reports of shot down helicopters and improvised explosive devices inundate American media to the point of emotional immunity. Seldom reported, and widely ranging is the death toll of Iraqi civilians. The numbers range from 30,000 to 655,000 depending on what news service you choose to believe. Concerning the latter figure, Rany Aburashed of MSU\’s Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology is particularly troubled, \”If the numbers don\’t reverberate to you, I think you have to reassess your heart, reassess your humanity, reassess what you value as a human because what\’s essentially happening is the blood of Americans has become worth a lot more than anyone else.\”
[nick]Sergeant Nicholas Gushen is part of the 101st Airborne Division. He spent his year-long tour in Eastern Baghdad. \”I lost buddies over there,\” Gushen said, \”and saw both Americans and Iraqis get killed.\” Having signed up for the Army during his senior year in high school, Gushen was prepared to be deployed to Iraq. Although \”getting shot at and explosions are scary,\” he kept a realistic approach. \”It is in the job description,\” Gushen said. \”I knew what I was getting into.\” Growing up in Flushing, Mich., the small town suburbanite found Iraq to be a bit of a culture shock. \”There is so much weird stuff that goes on over there, but you realize that the weird stuff is normal to them and a lot of the stuff that is normal to us is weird to them.\” Alternatively, he was surprised at how similar Iraqis were to Americans. \”When you kick in a door at three in the morning, you really catch people at their most normal times because their guard is down. Walking into a house during that time was sometimes like I was kicking in my neighbor\’s door. They seemed just like us and other times they seemed so far from us.\”
Although Gushen felt his presence was welcomed in the capital city, he did sense some fair American backlash. \”Their biggest problem was the fact that we have been there for four years and they are still sometimes without power and water,\” he said. \”That and the killing between Iraqis. It\’s all tough stuff. You stop one thing and another gets worse. You fix this problem but the media is now covering that one.\” As frustrating as trying to secure a foreign nation without the utmost support may be, Gushen is bound and determined to do his job and to do it well. \”I am a soldier in the United States Army. As a soldier, when the president tells me to go to war and do something, I do it. Bottom line.\”
Jeff Wiggins, a history senior and the Chairman of the MSU College Republicans, admits that President Bush made a serious mistake in the initial preparations of the war. Agreeing with former Secretary of State Colin Powell\’s recommendation, Wiggins believes that 400,000 troops should have been deployed instead of the 150,000 that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proposed.
With the eventual resignation of Powell, Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet following the misconstrued invasion, and the faulty intelligence that held the American peoples\’ support coming to light, Bush has seen his administration and the entire political spectrum more or less collapse. Four years ago, skepticism from Republican Congress was in essence unheard of. Today, even a conservative Republican Senator like Chick Hagel (R-NE) has spoken out. As told to U.S. News, Hagel announced, \”Things aren\’t getting better, they\’re getting worse. The reality is that we\’re losing in Iraq.\”
These accusations are just the latest sting to the Bush legacy. Now with a Democratic Congress for the first time in Bush\’s two terms, there is wonder if anything can be accomplished collectively. Wiggins agrees that bipartisanship is a strong factor to waging a successful war, but does not see the Republicans and Democrats working well together as seen from the State of the Union Address, when \”President Bush said we all need to stand together for victory in Iraq, only half the place stood up, the rest of the room sat on their hands.\”
While not particularly a fan of politics, Gushen agrees that the system has become quite petty. \”If the government wants to point their fingers at each other then let them do it. Someone up there has an answer and it is a good one. If they would just listen and stop bickering this might be solved, but then again that\’s politics.\”[army]
\”He did have America\’s best interest at heart,\” Wiggins said, \”but he did not go in with the right amount of troops and he did not have an exit strategy, and I think that\’s why people are starting to realize that that was a bad mistake.\” A mistake that needs fixing. Bush proposed to send 21,500 more troops to Baghdad and other areas of centralized violence. This increase of about 15 percent of the current level of troops currently stationed in Iraq.
\”If the goal is to fully disarm Baghdad,\” said MSU alumni Fahran Bhatti, \”that 15 percent is not going to get the job done. There is nothing unique about [the new surge].\” The troop levels have undergone surges in the past with no significant gain in leverage against the insurgents.
However, Bush supporters like Charles Skinner are more optimistic. \”The new surge of troops is going to have a different objective.\” Skinner, the President of the Conservative Law Society and a MSU law school student, defends the president\’s plan to increase troop levels. \”An increase in security on the streets of Baghdad give the Iraq police forces time to fully integrate and gain confidence in performing operations to root out terrorists, sectarian militia and petty criminals on their own and then to hold those areas against re-infiltration of those groups.\”
Wiggins has an idea of why the insurgent attacks have seen such an increase over the span of the war. \”If Iraq is successful and they have democracy and they\’re U.S. backed, then you have two countries there. Israel, who already has firepower to wipe out anybody they wanted to and then you have Iraq,\” Wiggins said. \”So then you\’ll have these two countries with freely democratically elected officials working with the United States and that scares a lot of people.\”
[kids]Establishing a respectable foreign policy has been one of Bush\’s biggest obstacles. Getting involved with another country\’s civil war has not always led to victory. \”Vietnam taught us at a terrible cost, and this war is starting to,\” Dodak said.
With the ongoing war in Iraq still waging with nothing short of a tumultuous future in store, the possible solutions are endless. A political redrawing of Iraq split into three autonomous regions for the Sunni, Shi\’a and Kurds seems to make sense if their conflict wasn\’t so deeply woven. It\’s a dark possibility that the regions would be swallowed by the neighboring countries and more intense violence would erupt. \”I don\’t think the fighting will ever stop,\” Gushen said. \”As soon as the Shi\’a get their own land, Iran will move in and take over. As soon as the Sunnis get theirs then Syria and Saudi Arabia will argue who gets to make all the decisions there. The Kurds have problems in Iraq and in Turkey. I don\’t think a small amount of land in Iraq will make Turkey any better. I don\’t know if it will create a more hellish region, but I think it will create a more complicated region.\”
The possibility exists that complete withdrawal of U.S. forces would mean the collapse of Iraq as we have come to know it and complete chaos for years to come. A phased withdrawal might seem like an open invite for Iraq\’s breeding ground of terrorists with little resistance. So what should be done? What can be done? Should America \”stay the course\” as President Bush has attempted to convince us repeatedly until he himself could not believe in it? There seems to be a general consensus as to what is needed as far as a solution. \”I think we need to get out of Iraq as soon as possible,\” Wiggins said, \”in regards to the best of the Iraqi people.\” How we go about achieving this outcome is up in the air.
Only the future holds the outcome, whether all hell breaks lose and fighting continues until the last Iraqi is standing, or if the Iraqis can sustain a democratic government that they, as a united people, can believe in. And whether the sanctions being put in place upon and being ignored by Iran\’s uranium enrichment program will inevitably lead to the Apocalypse is yet to be determined. What happens in just two years from now when a new president will be sworn into the White House? Will the Bush Administration become a dark blot in the history books that teach America\’s future? How will this current war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, be perceived?
Whether it will be considered World War III is debatable. \”I don\’t really know,\” Gushen said. \”I mean, we are fighting a pretty damn big war right now: the global war on terror. Those are pretty big words. These wars started quickly. Some of the battles are well known, and some of the battles are not known at all. This could be it. I don\’t know. I guess we will know when it\’s over.\”
Hopefully we’ll know sooner or later whether or not it was worth it.

Posted in Global ViewComments (0)

Dark Days

The winter months can be a real drag. The days get shorter, the air more frigid, and everything, including our metabolism, seems to move a bit slower. With the blistering cold of winter digging its claws deep within our Northface-lined souls, it seems only natural to stay indoors, sleep, hibernate and/or cry like a baby until March 21 sluggishly approaches.
Many people experience some range of winter depression, from being cranky at the thought of having to bundle up extra before heading outdoors to planning month-long vacations to bail out on the entire winter season altogether. While the ‘winter blues’ may be natural and normal to some extent, a small percentage of people suffer from a more serious depression that occurs every winter and to the same excessive degree.
Sonia Khaleel, a 2006 MSU graduate, remembers when she first started noticing her winter-time depression. “I remember feeling that I was always moody, particularly during the month of February,” Khaleel recalled. “(I) guess you could call that the heart of winter, and I definitely felt the effects.” Khaleel, 22, planned a four-month vacation to India from late November until late March, to “purposely to avoid all of winter,” she said.
So what causes this wintry slump in happiness, excitability and motivation – this extreme version of the ‘winter blues?’ Psychologists refer to this condition as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or its more appropriate acronym – S.A.D. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM IV) recognizes Seasonal Affective Disorder as a type of Major Depressive Disorder. Women have a significantly higher risk of S.A.D., making up nearly 70 percent of those diagnosed. The average age of onset for S.A.D. is around the early 30s, but as with most other disorders, there are cases of adolescent onset as well as occurences later in life.
A seasonal thing
Bobbie Heller, 26, was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder two years ago. Already suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder for five years, Heller began to notice the signs of something else. “When the depressive symptoms started showing up, none of my doctors asked me about seasonal changes,” said Heller. “I ended up being the one that mentioned that I thought it might be S.A.D. and subsequently was diagnosed with it that day.”
Khaleel, however, has yet to be clinically diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. She is “not opposed to getting diagnosed but it’s not a huge priority.” But she, as well as her friends, believe she has it. “It’s actually a bit comical and my friends are good-humored about it,” said Khaleel. “Usually I like to joke around a lot, so we treat this lightly, too. I try to remember it’s a seasonal thing when I get upset during the winter.”
What differentiates S.A.D. from normal depression is the predictable onset of symptoms, including a lack of energy, difficulty waking in the morning, increased cravings for food and subsequent weight gain, which begin to occur in late autumn and then disappear in early spring. The lack of an apparent cause for the depression also plays a role in achieving a diagnosis. The cause of S.A.D. lies somewhere between environmental factors and biological makeup. Most people experience a winter season throughout the year, i.e. cold weather, shorter days, influx of jackets, scarves, gloves and hats, but not everyone gets depressed. Those that do are extra sensitive to the amount of light exposure they receive, and since the days get shorter as winter arrives, thus reducing the number of hours of sunlight they are exposed to, they endure the depressive effects.
As a resident of Minneapolis, Heller bears the brunt of a cruel winter season. “I just want to curl up into a ball and sleep until it’s springtime,” she said. “I definitely sleep more during this time and am more emotional than in the spring and summer months.”
Ashley Elie, an interdepartmental social science-international studies senior, was diagnosed with Seasonal Depression in November 2005 at MSU’s Counseling Center. “[Seasonal Depression] is similar to S.A.D., but not as strong,” she said. “I had been feeling really poorly for a few weeks with no actual reason. I have the most trouble going to class. Since so few teachers take attendance, I can get away with not going if I don’t feel well that day, but it does hurt my overall grade because I’m not there for the lectures and I tend not to do any reading on my bad days.”
The science
The science behind S.A.D. is quite simple. Exposure to light has an affect on serotonin and melatonin levels; serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with the sleep cycle and mood. The winter months produce less sunlight, altering the level of serotonin. “The lack of light makes serotonin levels decrease,” Dr. Elizabeth Rose said. Rose is a child psychologist at Genesys Hillside Clinic and also works within the Flint School District.

When serotonin levels are low, a person is susceptible to depression and disturbances in a healthy sleep pattern. Melatonin is a chemical that regulates the sleep cycle. According to psychology professor Laura Smale, longer winter nights lead to a greater feeling of sleepiness. “Melatonin is secreted from the pineal gland during the night, (and) more light inhibits melatonin,” said Smale.
“I can fall asleep and stay asleep and the quality of my sleep is great even, but for some reason I am still sleepy throughout the day,” said Heller. “This has been shown to be related to S.A.D., as it has something to do with circadian rhythm disruption.”
Maintaining healthy sleep patterns, also known as circadian rhythms, are crucial in deterring mood disorders. “[Circadian rhythms] influence everything,” said Smale. Humans have a natural wake-sleep rhythm of roughly 24.5 hours. “Everyday is shifted by about a half hour,” said Smale.
Sunlight, however, plays a role in shaping the rhythms as a natural cue of when to sleep and when to wake. So when winter approaches and it gets darker earlier, circadian rhythms get interrupted and people find themselves increasingly sluggish. “If you mess with your circadian rhythm too much, things can get out of sync,” said Smale. “It can lead to stress, you will die earlier, women have problems getting pregnant and staying pregnant and you are more susceptible to diseases.”
In the NEWS
However, S.A.D. sufferers are not bound to endure a bout of depression every time winter rolls around. There are ways to curb Seasonal Affective Disorder as well as the mildest form of the ‘winter blues.’ “It’s all about NEWS: Nutrition, Exercise, Water and Sleep,” said Rose. “They can balance each other. If you can’t exercise, eat better. If you don’t eat that well, go for a walk. You’d be amazed at how much better exercise can make a person feel.”
There also are external therapies that have positive effects on winter depression. Many researchers have found artificial light sources can brighten the moods of S.A.D. sufferers. In the light box therapy method, a healthy amount of artificial light is emitted from a lamp while a person sits in front of it. The light enters the visual receptors of the eyes, even without one staring directly into it, and signals are then transmitted to the brain to increase production of serotonin and to regulate the production of melatonin.
While the light boxes can improve symptoms, not everyone has the time or patience to sit in front of light for 30 minutes or more every day. Plus, they are not cheap. The light boxes usually range in price from $200 to $300, but may eventually be covered by insurance with some persistence. “I have received a prescription and applied for a light box through my insurance company three times in the last two years,” said Heller. “I have been turned down each time because of incomplete documentation. It’s very frustrating.”
Elie has also looked into sun lamps, but found they are too expensive. “When I have some extra money I’ll sometimes go tanning,” she said. “It’s a little difficult because I could use the extra light in the mornings, but most places don’t open until after my first classes start.”
There are also pharmaceutical drugs, such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), including Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro, in which S.A.D. sufferers can experience beneficial effects, as the drugs’ main job is to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. “I was offered Wellbutrin, but I decided not to take it,” said Elie. “I didn’t want to become dependent on medication.”
Heller has unsuccessfully tried a variety of prescription drugs for her depression and sleep disturbances, including Desyrel, Restoril, Ambien, Lunesta, Wellbutrin and Zoloft. “I ended up with my current drug, Remeron, one year ago,” she said.
Getting help
As with all forms of depression, counseling can help people with S.A.D. deal with the outlying tribulations of feeling down. There are many facilities on and around MSU’s campus that are willing and able to assist those seeking help. The Counseling Center, located in the Student Services building, provides consultations by appointment to students and can make referrals to Olin Health Center or other resources. “If you’re just feeling off or depressed or stressed, the Counseling Center is a really good place to start,” said Counseling Center psychology intern Jeff Lawley. To make an appointment with the Counseling Center, call 517-355-8270. Olin Health Center requires the initial referral to be eligible to meet with a psychiatrist by appointment.
Sparrow Hospital, in Lansing, in houses the Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic on its campus in which psychiatric evaluation is available. For more information about Sparrow’s psychiatric services, call 517-364-7700.
The Women’s Resource Center is holding a S.A.D. awareness event, entitled “Beating the Winter Blues,” on Feb. 6 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in the Lake Superior Room of the Union Building. Lawley will be hosting the event, which is open to the public. “We’ll discuss what Seasonal Affective Disorder is and how to recognize it in yourself and your friends and also the different kinds of treatments that are successful,” said Lawley. He believes that students should be aware of depression because it is so common on college campuses.
“Over the course of a lifespan, one in four (people) will have at least one depressive episode, many with a seasonal component, especially in this part of the country,” said Lawley.
Moving on
Khaleel will not let her winter depression interfere with her future. “I don’t think it will shape my work plans. I will probably settle where a prospective job is or near my family, regardless of the weather.”
Elie is less certain of what is to come. “I’m a little scared about the future,” she said. She has plans to move to New York City, although claiming it would be better to move to a sunnier location. “New York is the only city in the United States that I have felt a connection to,” said Elie. “Hopefully I’ll find a job that allows me to wake up after the sun is out or [one that] will pay me enough to get a sun lamp.”
Heller makes daily efforts to curb her depression. “I turn on all of the lights in my apartment at dusk; I try to be alone as little as possible; I try to watch more comedies than say, horror or mysteries; I try to spend more time with family and to laugh,” Heller said. “I am not looking forward to dealing with S.A.D. for the rest of my life. It is a bothersome, needless condition. I just hope that as I delve into more natural (or) alternative treatments that I will find something that works.”

Posted in Sex & HealthComments (0)