CLARKSBURG — The winter months can be a difficult time for many as the days get shorter and holiday pressure increases, and symptoms can worsen for those already suffering from mental health issues.
The reasons for the shift are manifold, and modern worries such as pandemic burnout and economic and political issues could exacerbate those feelings this year, according to behavioral health experts.
Behavioral health experts emphasize that individuals are not alone and that there are several steps people can take to improve their mental health, depending on the cause and severity.
“I want people to know this is normal, but it’s also important to talk to your health care provider. This could be a primary care provider. It could be a mental health care provider. If you don’t know where to start for help, that’s where our hotlines become really important,” said Christina Mullins, commissioner of the Office of Behavioral Health in the Department of Health and Human Resources at West Virginia.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, tends to be more prevalent during the winter months.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, SAD is a type of depression that typically occurs in late fall and winter and often lasts well into spring or summer, likely caused by a lack of light.
Light stimulates the hypothalamus, which helps control the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm problems can cause the brain to produce too much melatonin, the sleep hormone, and to release less serotonin, a chemical that provides well-being.
SAD can cause major depressive episodes with feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness; loss of interest in activities; sleeping troubles; changes in appetite and weight; and feeling lethargic or restless.
For those with seasonal affective disorder, light therapy can help, according to behavioral health providers.
A 10,000 lux light therapy lamp is recommended. Individuals should follow directions and sit about 18 inches from the light for 20 to 30 minutes in the morning, according to Dr. Dilip Chandran, outpatient medical director at WVU Medicine Chestnut Ridge Center.
It may also benefit waking people for night shift workers, he said.
Lights can be found online, with some models as low as $30 to $50.
In addition to seasonal affective disorder, the winter months also bring other stressors that can affect mental health.
For many, the holidays are associated with increased pressures, financial stressors and possibly high expectations, Chandran said.
“It’s a busy time of year with the holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years – so there are a lot of traditions that we all enjoy and have to do or want to do, or travel that can happen. “, did he declare. .
Chandran said self-care is especially important at this time of year. Eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and practicing mindfulness seem to become more challenging this time of year, but are still imperative.
Chandran recommended managing time and modifying expectations, as well as perhaps prioritizing, setting realistic expectations, and reducing other unnecessary activities to ensure there is time for these measures. self-care.
There is also a lot of sadness associated with the loss of loved ones during the holiday season.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on being with family and being with loved ones and celebrating and, you know, all those kinds of things. And so for people who have lost loved ones, maybe they don’t have someone close, they’re at odds with their families, they just feel more isolated and more depressed, and I have people who say — and we all sorts of anecdotes hear people say — things like, ‘Oh, I hate the holidays,’” said Dr. Toni Goodykoontz, chief medical officer at Highland-Clarksburg Hospital.
People sometimes also associate bad memories with vacations.
“We tend to remember things in terms of dates, times and events, and holidays are often a marker of this. So people start to feel isolated and depressed,” she said.
People who are already seeing a mental health care provider can increase the frequency of their appointments at this time of year, if needed. For those without a provider, there are several ways to begin care.
Some may choose to contact counselors or psychiatrists directly. Those who have a primary care provider can contact their provider for a referral for care, Goodykoontz said.
For some, faster care is needed.
“If you start having symptoms that really interfere with your quality of life and overall functioning, if you start having those hallmark symptoms of depression or severe anxiety that cause you to have problems functioning at home or at work or if you notice a qualitative change, that we’re not really able to find pleasure or it’s too overwhelming a feeling, it’s always nice to try to get into a counselor,” Chandran said.
People seeking help can call 988, the new easy-to-remember number for the Suicide and Crisis Helpline. DHHR also offers Help4WV for people seeking help for a mental illness or addiction. The resource can be contacted by calling or texting 844-HELP4WV, or at help4wv.com.
Help4WV is a “one stop resource,” Mullins said. “I’m continually impressed with how they catalog resources so they know everything that’s going on across the state. They can connect you to providers statewide.
In some communities, mobile crisis services are available for children and even some for adults, she said.
Calls to the 988 suicide and crisis hotline have increased since the transition to the simpler number, Mullins said.
Goodykoontz pointed out that a local hospital emergency department is also an acceptable place for people who need help and don’t know where to turn.
“If nothing else, if you’re on your own and really don’t know where to look and you’re just lost, then the emergency room is an appropriate place to go. It’s not like we’re trying to overload our emergency rooms, but there are people who are so overwhelmed or so unaware of what the options are, that for them the emergency room may be the place where to go as a last resort to try to get help,” said Goodykoontz. “I know that as a doctor who has seen many people in the emergency room, it’s not uncommon for someone to say, ‘I just didn’t know where to go. I just didn’t know what else to do. And so, luckily, they come to the emergency room, because they don’t know what else to do.
Efforts are underway to improve mental health services in the state, according to Mullins.
Mental health staff in West Virginia and most places across the country do not meet national recommendations for the number of counselors and psychiatrists needed for the population.
There are mental health facilities in every county, and active recruitment efforts to get more providers to fill positions at these facilities are underway to improve wait times for services statewide. according to Mullins.
Goodykoontz said feeling stressed is normal and care comes in many forms, including home telehealth, to make sure it works for the individual.
“There is always something that is stressful. We live in a very stressful world. What I would say is that the majority of people feel stressed about it and it’s perfectly typical for people to feel stressed and there’s help out there,” Goodykoontz said. “And it doesn’t have to be medicine, and it doesn’t have to be having uncomfortable, awkward or embarrassing conversations either. There is a way to ask for help in a very comfortable and reassuring situation. I encourage people to recognize that many, many, many people are going through this and there is clearly help for them in a variety of settings.
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