• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Family and Consumer Sciences

Depression during the winter months and how families can help Some people call it the winter blues. Some people call it Seasonal Affective Disorder. No matter what you call it, the symptoms include feelings of being depressed during the coldest and darkest months of the year. According to Mental Health America, about five percent of the United States population experiences seasonal depression. The vast majority of people with seasonal depression are women.

Researchers are not sure what causes seasonal-affective issues during the colder months of the year. However, two of the most likely causes are reduced sunlight and increased levels of the sleep-related hormone melatonin, production of which goes up in the dark. These are some symptoms to look out for in your loved ones.

• Depression

• Anxiety

• Mood changes

• Trouble sleeping

• Overly tired

• Overeating or changes in appetite

• Problems getting along with others

• Irritability or avoiding social contact

There are several ways you can help a loved one who is coping with seasonal-related depression.

• The most helpful thing of all is outdoor activities. It might be cold but being outside even just a short time during daylight hours can be a very big help. Invite a loved one to go on a walk.

• Maximize the sunlight coming into your indoor spaces. Think about rearranging furniture. Open curtains. Move desks or chairs closer to windows. Encourage the person to get indirect sunlight.

• Let the person know that you are there for them and are willing to listen. Sometimes people with seasonal-related issues feel like others do not understand. Friends might downplay the sufferer’s depression or tell them to “get over it.” Reassure the person that you believe their depression is very real.

• Take a winter vacation to a warmer and sunnier location if possible.

• Plan a day of the person’s favorite activities to help keep them focused. Board games, puzzles and crafts can be great because they stimulate the brain.

• Cook a favorite food or treat. This goes a long way toward making someone feel loved and important. It can also help if the person is not eating well.

There are also some great ideas to help a loved one prevent or reduce symptoms.

• Begin light therapy in the early fall before the onset of symptoms.

• Increase exercise in the early fall before the onset of symptoms.

• Increase the amount of light at home.

• Meditate and practice other stress management techniques.

• Increase time spent outside.

• Visit climates that have more sun.

If a person is showing signs of severe seasonal-related depression, encourage them to get help from a doctor or therapist. In more severe circumstances, an antidepressant, light therapy or even hospitalization could be needed. Never downplay what they are feeling. If you think someone is suicidal, talk to them and ask them about it. Talking about it does not cause someone to act on their thoughts. Encourage them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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