Seasonal depression prompts need for mental health routines

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Around this time of year, people across the district are experiencing symptoms of depression that may be caused by the lack of sunlight during colder seasons.

Caitlyn Morrison, an RPN and Addiction Worker at the Safe Bed Program run by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CAMH) Fort Frances Branch, says her organization has seen clients show a reduced interest in activities, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, low energy, and are generally more withdrawn.

She says the symptoms are more apparent in the Autumn season compared to other areas because weather conditions become more like winter earlier in the year in northwestern Ontario.

“Our days drastically shorten,” she said, nothing that daylight savings is now over.

Morrison supports individuals that are facing mental health and addiction issues in the Safe Beds Program program.

She conducts one-on-one sessions, group work, and helps them obtain their goals. Furthermore, she assists with all the aspects of her clients’ case work, such as booking appointments, completing applications, and connecting them to community partners who will assist with their care after leaving the program.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is often labeled as “winter or seasonal” depression, she says. While there is no specific cause of SAD, the lack of sunlight can affect one’s biological clock, leading to feelings of depression.

Morrison added that reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood. Furthermore, melatonin levels can be disrupted by the change in season, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Since not everyone can be a “snowbird” that escapes to warmer destinations, Morrison provided a list of practical tips to care for one’s mental health during the fall and winter season.

First, she says to stay active. Morrison says she has two high energy dogs that love winter, and often brings them to the 8th Street trails.

“Take advantage of the beautiful 8th Street trails, or the Rainy Lake Nordic Ski Club for activities like hiking, snowshoeing or skiing,” she said. “If the cold is not your friend there are many online resources [to care for your mental health], and the Memorial Sports Center has active indoor activities.”

For days when it’s better to stay indoors, Morrison enjoys finding new recipes to cook, reading, or crafting signs and gifts for friends.

Small habits make a big difference. Morrison also suggests establishing an easy and healthy routine that is enjoyable and that is easy to stay consistent in.

To give a list of example habits to consider, she said:

  • “Each morning, acknowledge three things you are grateful for in a journal, out loud or in your phone.
  • Try to be physically active for 20 minutes, 3 times a week. Meet up with a neighbor or friend for an accountability partner, as it can make it more likely for you to follow through.
  • Lean into the shorter nights! This could mean cozy movie nights, learning to cook a new recipe, or reading that book that you haven’t had time for.
  • Keep to a healthy sleep schedule. Put the phone away and avoid electronics in the bedroom, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Consistency is key!
  • Have a support system and keep connected. While you might not feel like getting out, try to keep in contact with loved ones and friends. That could mean a lunch date, a video chat or even just an email.”

She also acknowledges that everyone could use extra help. If symptoms worsen and feel unmanageable, Morrison encourages reaching out to a healthcare provider for assistance.

United Native Friendship Center, Seven Generations Education Institute, Giishkaandago’lkwe Health Services and Riverside Community Counseling Services, and the Canadian Mental Health Association – Fort Frances Branch all provide a variety of wellness programs to keep residents engaged and active throughout the year.

In most cases, a simple phone call to make an appointment or completing a self-referral form is all that is needed to make use of the resources.

A 24-Hour crisis line is also available for through call (1-866-888-8988) or text (1-807-346-8282).

Lastly, Morrison noted the local events and organizations that provide opportunities to connect with people.

“​​Check out the different events, markets, and local events going on in our area. The museum, the library, green houses and local businesses all do events all year round that are great to get us meeting people and get us out and about,” she said.