Experts say the months with lower natural light triggers a seasonal pattern depression, commonly known as seasonal affective disorder, or winter blues.
Jane Longstreet, the mental health program supervisor for Community Mental Health of Ottawa County, said winter blues is actually a less severe form of seasonal pattern depression. Symptoms of the so-called blues are milder and the person’s functioning might not be impaired.
“So it may be that people find it’s harder to get up and get going in the morning, or they have the urge to eat more, or feel a bit 'down' and sluggish," Longstreet explained the winter blues. "But they are still able to perform their normal duties and responsibilities."
The more serious S.A.D. is a "seasonal pattern specifier" that is diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorders, Longstreet said.
Although the winter months lay ahead, Longstreet said people don’t have to suffer.
“It is treatable,” she assured.
One way people can brighten those dreary "cabin-fever" days is through phototherapy, which uses a special lamp that mimics outdoor daylight.
Such lights can be purchased locally at the North Ottawa In-Home Care Equipment store, 1310 Wisconsin Ave. in Grand Haven. Although the location carries one style, the store's manager, Susan Roberts, said there are more on the market that can be ordered and shipped.
The lights look like ordinary lamps and are helpful just by sitting near one — as long as the light is registered in the person’s eyes for 20-30 minutes a day.
“They do help people who have winter blues,” Roberts said.
Roberts said they only sell about 10 lamps each year, with the biggest demand coming in February. She encourages residents to check with their health insurance carrier to see if they cover the expense.
Longstreet also recommends people take care of themselves and exercise to beat the blues.
“Get out there and be active,” she encouraged. “Use friendship and family support networks to reach out to. It’s good to have people watching out for you if you’re prone to the disorder.”
When the blues turn to depression and thoughts of suicide, Longstreet encourages people to seek help. Residents can call the 24/7 Community Mental Health of Ottawa County helpline at 866-512-4357. If it’s an immediate emergency, call 911.
“There are many excellent therapists and doctors in Ottawa County that can help,” Longstreet said. “Don’t suffer needlessly,”
Tips for handling seasonal affective disorder or winter blues:
Get enough sleep, but not too much
Use light therapy for seasonal pattern depression
Limit or avoid alcohol
Stay busy, both physically and mentally
Source: Community Mental Health of Ottawa County