Shorter days, onset of winter weather signal difficult season for mental health

This year has been easy on very few people. Now, as Minnesotans tried to enjoy their fall season, Old Man Winter decided to show up early. That has health professionals worried about seasonal depression, an issue that many face each year.

As temperatures get colder and days get gloomier, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, better known as SAD, start to kick in. While some can get over it by a refreshing walk outside, even when it’s gloomy and cold, others deal with more severe symptoms that can lead to harming themselves.

“This is such an important topic this year, especially because a lot of the coping skills that we’re used to, especially being with family during the holidays, it’s going to be a challenge for many of us,” Dr. Talee Vang with Hennepin Health Care said.

Vang added spotting symptoms early can make a big difference as one can adjust their winter habits to help. With minor symptoms, including having low energy and not being very hopeful about getting better, exercise can help. And even though there isn’t as much sunlight during these times, get as much as you can, even when it’s gloomy.

“With more moderate to severe symptoms of depression, I highly recommend talking to your primary care provider, talking with a mental health professional,” Vang said.

Light therapy is also an option. The lack of melatonin and vitamin D from sunlight can lead to SAD, and lightboxes have been known to help.

Vang also said it’s important to remember — even when it seems like it’s hard to do — that this cruddy weather, COVID-19 and even 2020 will be over and to keep as positive of an attitude as possible.