Mental Health in Winter

As long amounts of daylight come to an end, snow falls to the ground, and another year has ended, mental health seems to dim. Winter, the deadliest of all four seasons, has officially arrived in Erie.

What about winter makes it deadly?

With little daylight, below freezing temperatures and gray snow clouds, winter seems to have a heavy play on people’s mindsets. Callie Arney, a licensed clinical social worker, works with people whose mental health is affected this season.

“Due to the reduction in sunlight and vitamin D, this can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder which falls under the category of depression,” Arney says. With the depression spike on the rise, suicide rates are up as well. “The numbers rise each time this year due to the weather changes which cause negative reactions with the brain chemical dopamine,” Arney explains.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and Causes

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the “winter blues,” is classified as a type of depression that is only seasonal, typically lasting about four to five months. The disorder tends to occur most often in winter, but could also occur in summer.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder causes people to oversleep, feel worthless, experience social withdrawal, and in rare cases be suicidal,” Arney says.

The brain contains many chemicals, most of them dealing with emotion. When a chemical in the brain is low, it could affect how a person thinks, interacts and how they feel. With darkness engulfing the sky at 5 p.m. for three months, many factors can cause a reaction with the brain chemical, serotonin.

“Erie has an average of 157 sunny days a year while the national average is 205. Once the reduced amount of vitamin D reacts with the serotonin levels in your brain, it lowers your happiness,” Arney says.

Cali Lossie, a freshman at Mercyhurst Prep, recognizes that winter takes a toll on her mental health. “Since most of the time winter is cold and snowy, we can’t really do anything leading us to be stuck inside our houses with the same things to do everyday, it makes me feel sad.”

Living your life as if you are in a repeating cycle can become monotonous and bland, causing your levels of serotonin to lower.

Relieving the Symptoms

SAD can not be treated completely, but you can limit the symptoms to relieve your mindset. “Light therapy is an effective type of therapy that reintroduces your brain to vitamin D you would normally get from the sun,” Arney says.

Light therapy uses a special lamp called a light box to recreate outdoor sunlight in your home, releasing endorphins in your body to create joy.

As well as SAD, statistics show high anxiety and depression are heavy in the winter. “I get very anxious during the winter months since it seems to be dark and gloomy, it makes me really miss summer,” Lossie says.

However, light therapy is not the only effective option that can help. Another option is talk therapy, which involves talking to a counselor at school or through an organization. If these options don’t seem the best to you, you can always download a mental health app, such as Healthy Minds. It is a free, non-intrusive app that helps you with your mental health.

Raising Awareness

According to a 2022 study published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, in 2020 Depression was more common among young adults aged 18 to 25 years at slightly more than 17%, and adolescents aged 12 to 17 years (16.9 %). The study reported, “Depression increased most rapidly among adolescents and young adults and increased among nearly all gender, racial/ethnic, income and education groups.”

“Raising awareness for mental health is an important aspect to do in the modern world. Teenagers should be aware of community resources and talk with people they trust if they ever need someone to talk to,” Arney says.

As more awareness is brought upon teenagers and adults year round, their lives are changed into something better. “Since we are only teenagers and most people don’t realize our mental health struggles, it can be very hard for us to do daily things. That’s why when people look out for us and try to help, it makes us feel loved,” Lossie says.

If you or someone you know is ever in distress, the crisis number is 988 or if you just need someone to talk to, you can message 741741, both are available 24/7.