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Shorter Days, Colder Weather Affect Some Coloradans' Mental Health

Nov 4, 2019

Credit Photo from NPR

At 2 a.m. Sunday morning, clocks fell back one hour. Many Coloradans may be enjoying that extra hour of sleep, but for others, it’s the time of year when the shorter days affect their mental health.

The end to daylight saving time is usually when some people start to struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or depression during the winter months. 

Dr. Gary Schreiner, the behavioral health manager at Mountain Family Health Centers, said it is mostly because of lack of sunlight and having to stay inside because of the cold, dark weather. 

“In a major depressive disorder, it occurs year-round. [SAD] gets better as the days get longer,” Dr. Schreiner said. 

He said medication and talk therapy helps, but the best way to help curb SAD is to get outside and in the sunlight. 

“What’s great about Colorado is it could be 25 degrees, but if the sun’s out, that’s sweater weather,” Dr. Schreiner pointed out. 

He said children and teenagers are more likely to struggle with SAD because they are more likely to be outside in the summer months. But Dr. Schreiner said it is also because of the lack of socialization and technology. 

“Instead of kids getting out and doing things, they're on their telephones, they're doing video games,” he said. “So that perpetuates that lack of being outside, that lack of sunlight, that lack of social communication.”

Dr. Schreiner said from December until early spring, he sees a big jump in how many people seek mental health services. When Colorado “springs-forward” and the days get longer, he says, less people will stop in.