TORONTO – Waiting for winter to end is taking a toll on Canadians’ mental health.
With gloomy days, winter coats and even snowstorm watches in the middle of April in some parts of Canada, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the winter tunnel, Tara Brousseau Snider says.
“It’s this lingering, long winter and it becomes seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s affecting people who normally don’t have triggers for depression,” Brousseau Snider told Global News. She’s executive director of the Mood Disorder Association of Manitoba.
“This is absolutely a Northern depression, it’s a Canadian depression. When you’re prolonging winter like this, it is going to trigger these kinds of feelings,” she told Global News.
In the past week, calls to the organization about depression have spiked – a 25 per cent jump. More often than not, it’s from people who don’t live with depression on a regular basis but are feeling blue.
Support groups at the organization have had to split into two because of high turnout. Brousseau Snider says more than 500 people have been showing up for daily sessions throughout the week.
This year hundreds of SAD lamps, which help people coping with the disorder, were rented out – most of which haven’t been returned yet. In most winters, users return the equipment by March.
Bad habits hang on as winter lingers
As seasons change, our routines, eating habits, energy levels and social time shift.
The Mayo Clinic says that those feeling symptoms of SAD in the winter feel depressed, hopeless and anxious. They feel a loss of energy, they’re feeling heavy in their arms of legs, and they have difficulty concentrating.
Others experience SAD in the spring and summer. This group has trouble sleeping, they’re irritable, agitated and they have a weak appetite.
Dr. Robert Levitan of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health discusses SAD in this video.
Brousseau Snider says this prolonged winter is causing Canadians to stay indoors more. They’re eating heartier meals, spending more time sleeping and less time exercising.
She likens the experience to hibernation.
“You’re not going to come out of your cave because it’s cold and it can be detrimental to your health,” she said.
Seniors may be fearful of icy sidewalks and stairs. Rural communities may stay home because of long commutes.
Brousseau Snider suggests creating routines so Canadians are sleeping and eating at a regular time each night. She insists on exercise and being social with family, friends or even a support group.