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Spring in your step: Why our mental health can change with the seasons

Click to play video: 'Spring and mental health: why we tend to feel better after winter'
Spring and mental health: why we tend to feel better after winter
WATCH ABOVE: Days are getting longer and temperatures are warming up in Lethbridge, prompting some to experience a mood boost. Eloise Therien speaks with experts and residents about why this is happening, and how people can be affected differently. – Apr 6, 2022

If you’ve seen a boost in your mood as the spring season rolls into town, you’re not alone.

As the weather warms and the sun sticks around longer, southern Albertans are feeling the positive effects.

“It’s remarkable. You can feel something almost lift in Lethbridge after a long winter season,” said Todd Atkinson, who walks around Henderson Lake multiple times per week.

“You can see it in people’s moods, and I think we live in a city that likes to get outside.”

According to Dr. Cheryl Currie, an associate professor of public health at the University of Lethbridge, there are several factors that play into feeling better in the spring as people overcome the so-called “winter blues.”

“Something that we know occurs in the winter months when the sunlight is low, is it can suppress our serotonin,” she explained, describing serotonin as a chemical that “makes us feel better.”

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“As light levels start to increase in the spring, we start to have –on average, most people start to have higher levels naturally of serotonin, which just lifts our mood.”

Along with that, Currie said some people see their melatonin levels decrease in spring and summer, giving them more energy. As well, getting direct sunlight on the skin is beneficial.

Some people experience symptoms of major depressive disorders related to the winter.

“Seasonal affective disorder and seasonal affective syndrome are real things,” Currie explained. “The higher the latitude someone lives in, studies show the more problems they (could) have.

“The prevalence of the disorder is about 1.5 per cent to nine per cent.”

Read more: 2 years of pandemic spotlights mental health

David Gabert, the communications lead with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Alberta South Region, said he is seeing more people take a proactive approach to their mental health, but just because it’s spring doesn’t mean all troubles are gone.

“We’re also seeing people reaching out if they’re in crisis or reaching out if they need support as things are evolving in our community, as semesters are winding down… (at) the college and university,” he said.

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“As people are transitioning or moving into or out of Lethbridge, there’s a lot of times people are reaching out to (get) help with the stressors in their life.”

Click to play video: 'Child and adolescent mental health services in high demand at Alberta Children’s Hospital'
Child and adolescent mental health services in high demand at Alberta Children’s Hospital

For some people, the change of season isn’t a positive thing.

“There has been some circumstances shown in the literature of a smaller number of people who start to feel worse in the spring,” Currie said, adding there is not a conclusive reason as to why.

She suggested monitoring for seasonal mood changes with the use of credible online tools, encouraging people to not be afraid to reach out to medical professionals for help.

“Throughout the year, check in with your friends (and) family, see how they’re doing,” Gabert said.

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