Normalizing the Mental Health Conversation

As the holidays approach, many of us are feel seasonal cheer in a big way. However, the winter months can also hit some of us rather hard. While it might be the most wonderful time of the year, it is also the time for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression specifically linked to seasonal changes. Most individuals afflicted with SAD begin showing symptoms in the fall that escalate into the winter months.

For most individuals, symptoms include loss of energy, insomnia, dietary changes, moodiness, and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. While the disease is four times more likely to impact women than men, anyone living further north is at an increased risk as well due to limited daylight hours and colder weather.

Why Should We Normalize Mental Health Conversations?

There is a very real, negative stigma surrounding mental health in general. While SAD is just one mental health issue, it impacts 10 to 20 percent of people on a mild level and about 6 percent of people on an extreme level. It is fair to say that SAD is a common affliction. Now that all of us are spending more time inside this year, those numbers are almost guaranteed to be higher.

More and more people realize that mental health is just as important for full functionality as their physical health. As we delve deep into the heart of winter, it’s more important than ever to normalize these discussions with friends, family, and coworkers who might be feeling isolated this time of year.

How Do We Normalize It? 

This is perhaps the most challenging issue we face in regards to dealing with mental health awareness. For some of us, talking about our own mental health may feel self-indulgent or uncomfortable. For others, talking about the inner workings of our brains is as easy to discuss as a favorite television show. Everyone is different, but the goal is to normalize seeking help when it is needed.

Steps to normalize conversations around mental health:

  1. Openness starts with you.

When talking to your inner circle, be open about your thoughts, feelings, and conditions. Being vulnerable with your friends and family will encourage open dialogue.

  1. Check in with your friends and family.

You don’t need to pry or push, but frequently reminding your loved ones that you’re there for them will open a door they may not have known existed, even if you alluded to it in the past. Just knowing that someone cares about and misses them can have a huge impact on their mental state.

  1. Correct falsehoods regarding mental health.

The negative stigma exists, in part, due to a lack of awareness. There are many misconceptions, preconceived notions, and overall dismissal of the legitimacy of mental health professionals. When you hear something incorrect, educate your friend in a non-combative manner about the seriousness of the topic and the importance of open discussion.

The negative stigma around mental health can be lifted, but it requires a lot of legwork on the front end before we can see the payoff. Seasonal Affective Disorder is already here and can be impacting anyone in your circle, so be aware, be open, and, most importantly, be there.

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