The winter months can be a tough time for people who face mental health challenges. The days are shorter, and winter weather means that people spend less time outdoors and in the sunshine. These conditions can lead to cases of seasonal depression, where people experience periods of intense sadness from late fall until early spring.
During the 2020-2021 winter months, people who face seasonal depression also have to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has upended many people's lives and livelihoods, and these changes have resulted in a significant amount of stress. For some people, the combined effects of seasonal depression and COVID-19 can be debilitating.
In the post below, we discuss seasonal depression symptoms and the mental health impacts of COVID-19. We then detail how both seasonal depression and COVID-19 can have compounding adverse effects on a person's mental health. Lastly, we discuss ways to combat the effects of seasonal depression and COVID-19 related stress, and we also discuss available behavioral health treatment programs.
Key points on seasonal depression
Seasonal depression is a common yet serious mental health condition. Some people refer to the condition as “holiday depression.” When people suffer from seasonal depression, they experience periods of persistent sadness. In addition to having damaging impacts on a person's mental health, seasonal depression can negatively affect a person's professional life and interpersonal relationships.
People experience seasonal depression differently, and there is no set list of symptoms. However, in addition to periods of sadness, common symptoms of seasonal depression include:
- Having low energy or a lack of motivation.
- Losing enthusiasm for activities one typically enjoys.
- Changes in sleep and eating patterns.
- Weight loss or weight gain.
- Feeling constantly agitated and irritable.
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt.
- Self-isolating behavior.
If left untreated, seasonal depression can lead to a range of other issues and health concerns. For example, sometimes, people who are depressed may turn to drugs and alcohol. This consequence of depression can lead to people developing addictions and becoming chemically dependent on a substance.
Also, severe cases of seasonal depression can result in suicide. People may feel hopeless and that they are unable to change their situations. If you or a loved one is ever at risk of suicide, know that help is available and seasonal depression does not have to be a part of life forever. For immediate support and counseling, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 anytime. If you or a loved one is ever in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911.
How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting mental health
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant source of stress in people's lives, and some people have referred to the mental health impacts of COVID-19 as “COVID depression.” Social distancing, lockdowns, and other public health measures have led to substantial disruptions in people's lives and businesses, and this uncertainty can be overwhelming.
People who experience seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress can find this time extraordinarily challenging. Ways that COVID-19 can impact people's mental health include causing:
- Fear about one's health and the health of loved ones.
- Worry about one's financial situation and job security.
- Difficulty concentrating on goals.
- Increased drug and tobacco use.
An important aspect of the above COVID-19 experiences is that they have been occurring over a long time frame. At the start of the pandemic, few people expected the impact of COVID-19 to last well over a year.
The combined impact of seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress
People who experience seasonal depression and COVID-19 related stress do not encounter each phenomenon in isolation. Instead, the effects of each issue can interact and compound each other. Ways that seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress can impact a person together include:
- Social distancing and lockdown precautions reinforcing self-isolating behavior among depressed people.
- COVID-19 stress leading to additional substance abuse among people who already turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with seasonal depression.
- Pandemic-induced routine changes leading to additional sleep and eating pattern changes among depressed people.
- Work-from-home environments reinforcing depressed people’s struggles with motivation.
When a person suffers from seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress, it is often difficult to determine how much each issue contributes to the person's mental health challenges. Often, precise accounting for the causes of one's mental health challenges is not critical for recovery. The most helpful understanding is simply recognizing that there are multiple contributing factors to one's mental health status.
At-home methods for managing seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress
When people suffer from seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress, they can use several at-home methods for managing their symptoms. These methods include:
- Maintaining good hygiene.
- Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day.
- Having a healthy diet.
- Connecting with family and friends that you trust and love. This year, meeting with family and friends can be virtual.
- Limiting alcohol and tobacco intake.
- Taking time to have fun and enjoy leisure activities.
While the above actions are relatively simple, it is important that people incorporate the above actions into their daily routines. Each action may have a temporary positive impact on one's mental health. However, to realize lasting positive change to one's seasonal depression symptoms and stress from COVID-19, people need to make a habit of self-care.
How Las Encinas Hospital can help
Some patients may still experience significant symptoms even after taking the above self-care actions. In such cases, help from mental health professionals in a behavioral health treatment program may be appropriate.
Las Encinas Hospital provides several behavioral health treatment programs for people who struggle with seasonal depression. Our clinical team understands that patients may be under additional stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, and our team has tailored each treatment program to address these new challenges. Our goal is to help patients during this difficult time and show people that the effects of seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress do not have to be a part of life forever.
Our behavioral health treatment programs include adult inpatient treatment programs and outpatient treatment programs. We also offer tailored college student mental health programs. Additionally, we offer chemical dependency programs for people who suffer from the consequences of substance abuse. People who suffer from seasonal depression and substance abuse have a "dual-diagnosis," and our clinical team has experience treating dual-diagnosis patients' unique needs.
Getting started at Las Encinas Hospital
If you or a loved one needs help combating seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress, contact our team at Las Encinas Hospital. You can call us directly at (877) 579-8140 or contact us online. We are happy to help answer any questions you may have about our programs and behavioral health hospital and help you determine if we are a good fit. We can also help schedule you or a loved one for a free mental health assessment, which our clinical team can use to recommend a personalized treatment program.