By Caroleine James
Wrangell Sentinel 

SEARHC offers guidance for maintaining mental well-being as winter approaches

 

November 9, 2022 | View PDF



Whether it’s a pesky case of the winter blues or a more serious health condition, Brooke Reynolds of the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has words of encouragement for community members who are starting to feel the effects of the changing seasons.

The lengthening hours of darkness “affect us all, some of us more than others,” said Reynolds, who is the clinical supervisor at Wrangell Behavioral Health. Even otherwise-healthy people can have “down days,” especially during the winter months. She recommends that her clients stay physically active, though that doesn’t have to mean bench presses, burpees and buckets of sweat. Even a few minutes of stretching or a brisk walk can help reduce stress, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Try not to isolate,” Reynolds added. It’s easy to get stuck in the house alone, especially when socializing requires braving the elements, but spending time with friends can do more than merely update you on spicy gossip. It’s essential for mental and physical well-being. She suggests scheduling time with loved ones in advance so that other activities don’t crowd socialization out of her clients’ calendars.

Picking up a new hobby — Reynolds likes to knit and crochet — can help people stay occupied during the slow hours of winter. However, maintaining a constant flurry of productivity just isn’t sustainable, especially this time of year. She recommends “taking time to slow down in the winter.”

“We have this mindset of having to always be doing something,” she said. “Allowing yourself to rest, being intentional about that — that’s okay.”

Simple steps like these can be useful for many, but yoga alone will not be enough to address ongoing health problems like depression and seasonal affective disorder. “When somebody starts to have more down days than good days,” said Reynolds, they may be dealing with a serious medical issue, especially if these periods of intense sadness or lethargy last for most of the day.

Symptoms of depression may include irritability, trouble concentrating, loss of interest in normal activities, weight loss or gain and feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Two weeks of symptoms is the clinical benchmark that doctors often use for diagnosis, but this rule is not set in stone. Reynolds looks for “an overall pattern” of low mood that interferes with daily life.

The clinic starts to see an increase in mental health and depression-related visits as the days get shorter. “We do see a pattern in the fall,” she said. The seasonal rush abates somewhat around Christmastime, when many people spend time with their families, and picks back up around February and March, when “people feel like the sunlight is never going to come back out,” she said.

Community members who are experiencing consistent low mood should start by talking to someone. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional at first,” said Reynolds, who finds that people are often more comfortable reaching out to friends and family members before seeking formal forms of care. “If you’re already doing that, it becomes a larger conversation to have with a counselor or a doctor.”

If you are concerned about the safety of a loved one, Reynolds urges people to “open the door, have the conversation.” Concerned friends and relatives should listen, without judging or offering advice, then seek the help of a mental health professional.

“People are aware of suicide prevention but are afraid to talk about it,” she said. “You’re not going to do any more harm by asking.” Alaska consistently ranks in the top three states for suicide mortality, along with Wyoming and Montana. The mortality rate is even higher in rural areas, where mental health problems often go untreated, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alaska’s suicide and crisis hotline can be reached by dialing 988. It is available 24 hours a day.

 

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