Seasonal affective disorder, 'winter blues' mental health tips

Is it the winter blues or something more? While shorter days and gray skies can affect people's moods, psychologists have tips to keep your mental health in check.

"Seasonal affective disorder – or SAD for short – is a clinical depression that typically occurs during the winter months," said Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, a UW Health psychologist.

Mirgain said SAD effects 4-6% of people, but 10-20% can experience a "lesser form" – sometimes known as the "winter blues." Symptoms can include sleep disturbance, appetite change and feeling sluggish or lethargic.

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"At the worst there can be that feeling of hopelessness or helplessness or feelings of suicide," said Mirgain.

To fight it, Mirgain said staying active and eating food with vitamin D, like mushrooms or salmon, can help. Socialization can also help improve your mood – whether it's in person, over the phone or virtually.

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"If you find that you’re really struggling with SAD, and you’re finding that it’s impacting your overall wellbeing, seek professional help," said Mirgain. "You’re not alone. It’s really important to think ahead: ‘What would be the best form of self-care for myself this time of year?’"

If you are looking for professional help, there are resources in Milwaukee. The city health department has a number of options online, and you can also contact 211.

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If you or someone you know is struggling, the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be accessed by dialing 988.

Localized resources for a variety of circumstances can be accessed by calling 211. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also offers information and resources for mental health help and suicide prevention online.

Additional mental health resources can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).