Winter weather and how it is affecting some Utahns’ mental health

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Snow covers the steps of a dark parking garage at BYU. Cold weather and less sunlight can lead to seasonal affective disorder, a serious mood change during the winter months. (Ashley Pun Eveson)

Residents are often vulnerable to the negative impact winter weather has on their mental health as colder weather ramps up in Utah County.

Winter weather is often correlated with seasonal affective disorder, which is defined as a serious mood change during the winter months due to less natural sunlight. Winter weather can put a strain on mental health with the dropping temperatures, shorter days, snow and ice. 

Even Utahns who are used to cold weather from December to February may experience negative changes in their mental health. 

During this time of year, trees in Utah County are covered by ice and snow. (Ashley Pun Eveson)

“It’s harder to find motivation to do things, and the mood overall feels more depressed,” Amber Cloninger from Morgan, Utah, said. “It makes it harder to do classes because of the weather changes.” 

Residents who are not native to Utah also struggle adjusting to the changes in weather and mood, even if they are from neighboring states. 

“The snow is nice, but all it makes me want to do is go inside and watch a movie in a blanket and not do anything productive,” Ben Black from Eagle, Idaho, said.

Although mental health can take a dive during the winter season, there are ways for both Utah County locals and non-native residents struggling with mental health to combat its negative effects. 

“What they should know is that they’re actually doing a lot better than people give them credit for,” said Brandon Thatcher, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and BYU nursing professor. “They are reporting higher incidents and more prevalence and more frequency of mental illness diagnoses and symptoms, but they are also talking about it more.”

Snow falls around the BYU Bell Tower. Colder temperatures make it harder for residents to get out and about. (Ashley Pun Eveson)

According to Thatcher, the best resource for mental health is reaching out to a trusted friend or family member and talking to them.

Another way to connect with others is through group therapy, a service that is available through BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services.

Thatcher named other activities that can relieve pressure on mental health such as exercise, daily walks, sufficient sleep, learning something new and giving to others.

Thatcher recommended taking student development courses as a way to help with mental health and develop positive habits. Student development courses are “an under-advertised resource available to students,” he said.

BYU public health professor and mental health researcher, Ali Crandall, said Utah residents need to be vigilant as part of the suicide belt: a region notorious for higher-than-average suicide rates in the United States.

“Everybody’s at different places, so we need to just recognize that our mental health can fluctuate, and it’s not a doomsday thing,” Crandall said. “To prepare for it, students should try to find the things that make them feel better.” 

Crandall explained that students should also reach out for help when they are struggling, which includes a willingness to say that they need extra help and support from their professors.

“There are things we can do to help if students are willing to communicate,” she said. “When you’re not feeling mentally well, it can be hard to reach out. But there’s things we can do to help out if you communicate it to us.” 

In Utah County, there are many resources for those struggling with their mental health, especially during the winter season. Visit www.mentalhealth.gov to learn more.

Many resources are available to those struggling with mental health in Utah. (Ashley Pun Eveson)
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