White can turn people blue

Psychologists say weather alters people's moods

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Snow may not be the only thing falling this winter. Psychologists say moods may be dropping, as well.

"Winter can bring on different types of reactions in people," psychotherapist Gary Gurney said. "The snow starts building up around their houses, and they start feeling closed in."

He said this claustrophobic feeling is characteristic of the external type of seasonal depression.

"It's the way you're looking at the world," he said.

He explained that those suffering from the external type typically feel the disorder most after the holidays have passed. The excitement of the season has passed, and bills start flooding in.

"People start feeling a real financial stress after the holidays," Gurney said. "People start really getting hit in January."

He also noted that higher heating bills accompany winter and can be overwhelming for some.

"People who are on a fixed income, that can be real tough," he said.

For the most part, Gurney said the way people approach situations often can be a main source of depression.

"They lose the power in themselves to the power of winter," he said. "Change the way you're looking at it."

The other kind of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is internal and is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Many people who suffer from this kind stay inside during the winter and do not get enough sunlight.

Craig Mental Health Program Manager Gina Golden said many of the clients she sees suffer from this disorder.

"It's probably one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health issues," she said.

A few of her clients come in regularly -- up to five days a week -- for half-hour light therapy treatments. Lamps that simulate the sun's rays are available at her office and are for sale.

"(Clients) report it makes a significant difference," Golden said. "It's important for them to get out and get some fresh air and get some light every day."

Gurney agreed, saying that being outside is significant but it's not the only way to keep busy.

"Physical activity is really important," he said. "If you're not into the outdoors, there are ways to do that indoors."

He recommends joining an athletic club or a social group to stay active. He warned against the use of alcohol, which many turn to for a short-term high. He said adding another depressant to the person's situation only will make the condition worse.

Instead, Gurney said one way to beat the winter blues is to head someplace warmer, which he said many of his patients do.

"You go to Cozumel, Mexico, around this time, and you run into half of Steamboat down there," he said.

However, many people suffering through this disorder do not seek help until spring, when their energy level is back up.

Gurney said another problem with people seeking help is the rising cost of mental health services, which compound the already stressful situation people are in financially. But even if a potential client cannot afford a session, there is an alternative.

"Pick up a phone and ask," Gurney said. "At least I will do a brief, 'OK, tell me what's going on with you.'"

For help dealing with seasonal depression or other disorders, call the Yampa Valley Psychotherapists at 824-2557 or Craig Mental Health at 824-6541.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031 or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

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