PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director of The Brien Center, said there’s a lot of truth behind winter months being tough on the mind, especially when you live in places like the Northeast.
“I don’t know that we have all the answers, but it does seem like people in northern latitudes are more likely to have a seasonal affective disorder,” Michaels said. “Or we call it winter depression sometimes.”
The Brien Center is a Berkshire-based services and support center and one of their main focuses is mental health. Michaels relates seasonal affective disorder to a sort of mental hibernation.
“When some vulnerable people experience winter, they are more likely to sleep in, have lethargy or fatigue,” Michaels said. “Some people crave carbohydrates and gain weight. They become less interested in their usual activities and their mood is down or depressed.”
Treatment can include light therapy, psychotherapy, medication and an increase in vitamin D. People usually feel the seasonal disorder anytime between November and April, but Michaels said depression is common at any time.
“In Massachusetts, probably eight to ten percent of grown-ups experience a depressive disorder in a year,” Michaels said.
And no matter what month it is, Michaels said seeking help to improve your mental health shouldn’t be put off.
“The thing to remember is depression really hurts – it’s a psychic wound, it’s an emotional wound – it’s real,” Michaels said. “A lot of times people feel guilty that you know, ‘what’s wrong with me?’ or ‘I should just buckle up or be strong.’ It’s not about that. It’s an illness that requires some treatment, and then you feel better. So why not get treatment?”
If you’re experiencing depressive symptoms, Dr. Michaels recommends contacting your primary care doctor or a psychiatrist as soon as possible.