winter depression

Mental Health as Winter Approaches. Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Disable

This is a picture I am kind of proud of, taken with and edited by an iPhone 7. This was pretty much the last all-green day I went out taking photos. Now comes the long struggle to deal with the low sunlight hours of winter that have been known to cause a great deal of people to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. It was a grim sight, but once, right on the very bridge I took this picture of, I saw a man who died by hanging himself off the bridge. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD is a very serious issue and suicide is a tragic loss for all those left behind. As a last comfort, Edmonton is now a dash of every colour possible.

The following poem first appeared in the Boyle-McCauley News

 

The Forgotten Book

 

On my floor forgotten lies a book

Its cover bent all it seems to do is gather dust

The dismal hum of the summer fan

Licks its pages until it seems alive

This book once had been my hopes, my dreams

To take me places I never dared to go

This book was more than mine it was me

It was written by my hand inspired by my soul

I poured everything into its pages

And now at 5:00am as the sky brightens

I haven’t got the energy to pick it up

I should file the thing; get it out of sight

But I’ve grown accustomed to seeing it

There on my floor

I may be a hermit to some

Old books covering my furniture and floors

Old junk filling up the spaces in between

But among all that will be that book

Hopefully long after I am gone

To tell my story

To somehow let me live on

If only on a page that few will read

Leif Gregersen

 

Good morning noon or night dear readers! It has been some time since I have written a blog, I apologize but feel I have a relevant excuse. I have been given a new pill which is being used to taper me off one antipsychotic medication to another that will have less side effects and only needs to be administered once a month instead of every two weeks. Add to that the pulling of a tooth and the week long use of painkillers and penicillin and I was a bit of a wreck. On Friday I am going to be speaking to an inter professional group, (actually three of them) at the University of Alberta Medical School and I am going to need to tell them about how all of their jobs fit together (I will be speaking in front of dentists, doctors, nurses and more). Something I continue to talk about is how psychiatric medications often cause dry mouth, and saliva is the first line of defence we have against tooth decay. So it follows that, even though they may not know it, dentists play a key role in the treatment of someone with an illness.

More will be said on that topic, but today I wanted to talk a bit about how winter affects us. Unless you live on the equator, in winter there are much fewer hours of sunlight. Many doctors believe that everyone needs a certain amount of sunlight to regulate their moods. Many people with bipolar disorder use a ‘light box’ to make them feel better in the winter months. Some even have headsets with UV light shining into their eyes wherever they go. I don’t know how effective this is, but I do know that midwinter can be a very difficult time for me to get through. This summer has been wonderful, I invested in the best walking shoes I was recommended and have been walking sometimes up to 20km a day, enjoying the hot weather and sunshine, and I have also lost 30 pounds in the process. When winter comes, getting my daily exercise will be much more difficult. I will walk, especially to the grocery store, but it may well go down as far as minus 40 (40 below). This means I will slip and slide at times when I walk, and it also means that my skin will get extremely dry, worse if I go swimming for my exercise, but I have stocked up on video games, movies and books of all kinds, plus I will be working a couple of days a week if all goes well.

Another thing I know about the middle of winter (in Canada) is that around Christmas, the psychiatric hospital and psych wards fill right up to capacity. This makes it very difficult to get help if you are suicidal and in need of treatment. It is an interesting problem one faces because we really need more trained psychiatric staff, but to hire more staff, more must be trained, which can either mean lowered standards of training, or incentives from the government. The biggest problem faced in my own workplace, the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta is that mental illness is not a popular target for funding. There are solutions out there, but I am hoping to spread the word that much of it is down to the general public, not the patients, the staff, the teachers or the government. Much of it comes down to changing attitudes towards mental health. Stigma kills. Literally. A fact we stress when I give presentations for the SSA is that 1% of people in Canada (300,000 people) have the illness of schizophrenia. (can you imagine providing space for that many people plus trained staff if needed?) out of those 300,000 people, and I also like to stress that they are people, 10% will die by suicide as a direct result of being stigmatized, being isolated as a result of stigma, and possibly even not feeling any sense of care or self-worth as a result of stigma. I don’t know all the answers, but I will try and document what I can on this blog, so stick close dear readers, this will be a wild ride!

Leif Gregersen