Mental Health Risk at All-Time High During Winter

Posted By Dr Jobi  
15:00 PM

As many studies have already reported, rates of mental illness symptoms in the population have been rising throughout 2020 due to social distancing measures, increased isolation, and a general upheaval of normal life due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, the prevalence of seasonal Affective/Mood Disorder and depression is also projected to reach an all-time high in the forthcoming months as surges in virus cases coincide with declining options for activities as colder weather encroaches. Alongside the widespread, multi-faceted devastation caused by the pandemic, political concerns and social unrest leave the Australian population increasingly vulnerable to mental illness during this winter season.

Seasonal Affective/Mood Disorder & Depression 

According to current estimates by the DoH, of the 20% of Australians with a mental illness in any one year, 11.5% have one disorder and 8.5% have two or more disorders. Almost half (45%) Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Approximately 10% of these mental illness worsen as the winter creeps on.

The onset of colder weather and decreased sunlight exposure contribute to a biochemical imbalance in the brain characterized by lowered serotonin levels and altered circadian rhythms. Common symptoms include sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or eating patterns, changes in sleep, and loss of energy. The condition typically lasts for approximately 40% of the year although, in some patients it can last even longer.

Seasonal Affective/Mood Disorder and depression is more common among women, young adults, those living further from the equator, as well as those with a personal or family history of depression. Nonetheless, the current environment is not conducive to overall wellbeing, putting more individuals at risk for mood disorders and depression even if they have never experienced mental health concerns before.

Seasonal Affective/Mood Disorder Amid COVID-19 Restrictions

The symptoms of Seasonal Affective/Mood Disorder are likely to be exacerbated by pandemic conditions across the world and in Australia. As the number of activities decreases and feelings of isolation, compounded by stress and anxiety, increase across populations and age groups. Protective measures against COVID-19, including the closure of many business and limited social contact, contribute not only to declining in-person interactions but also growing financial burden. The lack of physical mobility, reduction in activities, and persisting threat of the novel coronavirus greatly heighten the risk for mental health symptoms in the population.


Therapeutic Options

It is paramount to find safe ways to socialize and remain active throughout this coming winter season. Individuals are encouraged to maintain a strong support system of family and friends with frequent video and phone calls, socially-distanced visits, and other safe interactions. Experts recommend keeping a consistent exercise routine, which can greatly benefit mental health while also increasing overall emotional and physical wellbeing. Despite the cold, it is important to continue spending time outdoors for sunlight and fresh air exposure in a safe way.

Another potential therapeutic option recommended is bright daylight therapy, which can be used indoors to mimic sunlight exposure. Daily treatment involves approximately 20 minutes of exposure to the light throughout the winter months with improvements seen between 1-2 weeks after initiating treatment.

In addition, experts recommend pursuing a natural approach of medical foods for the brain may be helpful. The Gut is actually where the brain neurotransmitters like Serotonin are produced. A healthy gut gives us a health brain. Functional Medicine offers a helpful options for combating affective/mood and depression symptoms.  

However, some patients may need to undertake more aggressive treatment measures to improve their affective/mood disorders and depression symptoms. Talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy can effectively treat affective/mood and depression as can antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

As per the Department of Health advice, anyone feeling severe symptoms of affective/mood disorders and depression or suicidal thoughts to contact a doctor immediately or seek help at the closest emergency room. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 13 11 14 for a chat.

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The information provided on Zenith Medical Centre blog is for educational and informational purposes only. The information provided on this site is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice or care. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional in the event something you have read here raises questions or concerns regarding your health.”