For many people, it doesn’t matter what season it is – their moods and feelings aren’t significantly affected.
For others, the darkened winter months can be a really tough ordeal – these feelings are often reflected in a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, SAD can be difficult to diagnose.
Generally, symptoms that recur for at least two consecutive winters and may include a change in appetite, in particular a craving for sweet or starchy foods, weight gain, decreased energy, fatigue, tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, avoidance of social situations and feelings of anxiety and despair.
“SAD tends to begin in people over the age of 20 and is more common in women than in men. Recent studies suggest that SAD is more common in northern countries, where the winter day is shorter – something we can certainly relate to in Canada.
“It can be, at times, debilitating,” explained Krista Mogensen, a mental health liaison with Alberta Health Services. “You just don’t want to go out.”
There are a number of things folks can to do combat symptoms however, running the gamut from light therapy to medication to counselling. Light therapy involves sitting near intense artificial light that causes a chemical change in the brain that improves mood and helps relieve SAD symptoms.
“Another thing you can do for SAD is to be more active,” she said, adding that when the sun does shine, be sure to take advantage of it. “Soak in the sun as much as possible.”
On those cloudy days, she did emphasize that the special SAD lamps can be very helpful for some people.
It’s also important to make sure you are eating healthfully, staying hydrated and cutting your alcohol intake, she said, adding that a Vitamin D supplement can also be beneficial.
Unfortunately, when people are down, they can tend to neglect proper nutrition and engaging in adequate amounts of exercise.
In the broader picture, she noted in regards to mental health issues as a whole, speaking out about them is key to getting on the road to being well.
“There is currently that stigma related to mental illness, and I think that a lot of people are actually suffering – whether it’s depression, anxiety or SAD. Talking about it and getting that awareness out there is so important,” said Mogensen.
Other programming includes the services of a children’s liaison who deals with Lacombe residents who are 18 and under.
“We are the voice between the hospital and the community,” she explained. “We also do health promotion regarding mental health as to what’s needed in the community,” she said.
“Primarily what we do is we see individuals in the hospital when they are in crisis. We do have time in our schedules to do short-term therapy as well,” she said.
“If you are in crisis, you need resources right at that moment and possibly someone to talk to for a few weeks before you are either discharged from our program or transferred to our adult short-term program,” she said. “That works for both children and adults,” she said.
“There are services available during the day and we also have our crisis response team which provides assessments and crisis intervention after hours,” she said.
“We also do assessments for addictions and mental health, and we have treatments available for families, individuals and groups. And we also do a lot of referrals to other professionals – doctors, psychiatrists, as well as agencies like FCSS.”
The Lacombe Mental Health Centre is located downtown across from the post office (5033- 52nd St).