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Keeping an Eye on Each Other is a Great Strategy in Fighting Winter Blues

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Shahla Farzan
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Jay Bechtol of South Peninsula Behavioral Health has some tips for positive mental health in the dark of winter.

With as little as six hours of sunlight illuminating our days during the dead of winter, it’s no wonder these next few months can be hard on people’s mental health. But as Jay Bechtol of South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services said on Wednesday’s Coffee Table, there are some misconceptions about the “winter blues.”

“December is one of those months where everyone feels compelled to hold it together. It's the holiday season, commercials on TV and on the radio are telling you you have to be with family. You have to be of good cheer. You know, it's a happy time,” he said. “And so even people that are struggling with mental illness, depression, sadness, anxiety, at this time of the year, really try and hold it together because they feel compelled to by the societal norms that we have.”

Then, he says, January and February happen.

“All of that holding it together for the last 60 days, starts to fall apart. So really what you see is people doing their best to hold it together now and fall apart later. Which is really unfortunate because what you should be doing right now is reaching out for help and saying I feel like crap today,” Bechtol said. “And finding those people you can talk to, your support system, family members, therapists, teacher, pastor, you know, garbage man, whoever, and in contact with people and feeling comfortable in discussing how you're feeling. And that’s a challenge.”

And even though opening up about emotional health issues is a challenge, Bechtol says it’s getting easier and easier.

“One of the nice things over the past 15-20 years we’ve seen an increased awareness in how mental health impacts people. And if you talk to kids, the youths that are, under say 25, they've grown up in a time when they can talk more comfortably about how they feel,” he said. “And so if you are comfortable talking about it, then you can go to your friends, your support, family doctor and say, ‘I don’t feel good.’”

And that support system Bechtol mentioned is vital in keeping an eye on their friends’ mental state.

“If you are sad, having a bad day, feel like staying in bed, tell someone and then you have someone that's helping you monitor that. And if you stay in bed for a day, maybe two days and then get up and go back and everything's pretty okay. You're good to go. Stay in bed two days, and that third day rolls around and then that fourth day rolls around. You or your support system should be saying this is not normal. This is not how you operate,” he said. “Because if that goes unchecked then those simple symptoms of sadness, don't feel like getting out of bed, start to become normal for your brain. And then that is when the real clinical depression starts to set in.”

For more tips on dealing with the winter blues, you can hear the full Coffee Table online at KBBI.org. Our shows are now available in convenient podcast format -- just check on your favorite podcasting app.