For some, winter is a welcome relief from the heat, humidity and, more often than not, brown grass and leaves of the summer and fall seasons. The white snow could be seen as a blank slate, fit for starting fresh; a new beginning.
And yet, for others, winter brings with it the cold, windy reminder of yet another year passing. The dreaded, yet inevitable days of seclusion and isolation from the world as you spend your time trying to shake that ever-present chill; be it from the cold, or something more.
While we’ve probably all had those feelings we’ll call, “the blues” — the letdown after the holiday season, the lack of activity stemming from not being able to get outside regularly or the loneliness associated with fewer personal interactions because of the weather — for some people, it’s a much more serious matter.
These “blue” feelings we sometimes have can often turn into something more severe — clinical depression.
Major depression is the most severe form of depression and is diagnosed by a health professional based on a combination of symptoms and impairment in functioning. It causes disruptions in people’s daily lives, be it work, school or social activities, and can affect people of any age or gender.
According to Dr. Paul Davis, licensed psychologist at Lakewood Health System in Staples, the main difference between this level of depression and “the blues” is that generally our “blue” feelings are resolved after we’ve taken steps to change them, whereas clinical depression lasts for an extended time and may require other types of treatment such as therapy or medication.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about some of the things that might lead to the blues, or even depression.
“Generally during the winter, people are more susceptible to symptoms of depression because they aren’t as mobile as they might be during other seasons,” said Corrie Brown, psychotherapist at Lakewood, “so they experience those feelings of isolation, of being alone; they’re missing that social interaction.”
“People are also less active during the winter, because it can be more difficult to get out and do enjoyable or productive activities,” said Davis. “Physical aches and pains can also affect people more in the cold weather, which can be another factor that leads to less activity.”
Those, along with the buildup and potential letdown of the holidays, which can include plenty of interactions with family and friends — be they good or not so good — as well as the possibility of experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can all lead to those blue or depressed feelings.
SAD is a type of depression that typically occurs at the same time every year. Most people experience symptoms, including lack of energy and moodiness, more often during the winter months, but occasionally during the other months as well.
Treatments for SAD include light therapy, psychotherapy and medications.
“There are quite a few things people can do to help their blue feelings,” said Davis, “Getting active is very important, even if you have to schedule the activity just to make sure you do it. Sleep is also important. A lot of times, we think of people getting too little sleep, but getting too much sleep can also be problematic. Try to moderate the amount of sleep you’re getting, generally 7-8 hours each night.”
“Sometimes we forget that ‘feelings’ aren’t the only things to consider when you’ve got the blues or you’re in a depressed mood,” said Brown. “Physical things have an impact on our mental health as well. So you should talk to your medical provider about checking blood levels and any other potential health-related issues which may impact your mental health.”
“And along those same lines, medications you’re taking, as well as alcohol and other substances, can also have an effect on your mental health,” said Davis, “which is why it’s important to be responsible when using any type of substance or medication and to ensure you take only as prescribed.”
If you’ve taken these steps and done your part to try to combat the blues and it just isn’t working, it may be time to talk to a professional. Along with private, individual sessions with trained behavioral health professionals, Lakewood also offers group therapy through the Reflections Structured Out-Patient (SOP) program. Each session is facilitated by one of Lakewood’s therapists and includes other people who may be experiencing some of the same feelings and symptoms as you.
“In both the individual sessions and the SOP group sessions, we not only talk with people about what they’re going through,” said Brown, “we also offer information and tips on how to cope with the feelings and symptoms people may be dealing with, as well as how to manage medications and other treatment options, should they be necessary.”
To learn more about the SOP program, visit www.lakewoodhealthsystem.com or call 218-894-8200.
“It’s important to remember that these symptoms and feelings don’t have to last, and you shouldn’t just ignore them or hope they go away on their own,” said Davis. “You need to take the next step and talk to someone who can help. There are a lot of things that are normal about winter, but depression doesn’t have to be one of them. We want people to enjoy life, and the many good things this time of year has to offer.”