Changing of seasons linked to mental health challenges in Arizona

Nov 20, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 6:29 am

man with hands folded and sad...

(Photo by Andrew Wong/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrew Wong/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Mental health concerns are on the rise in Arizona as temperatures drop and the days become shorter.

It’s a trend seen across the world and locally, despite the relatively sunny days year-round and respite from scorching summer heat.

Dr. Deborah Fernandez-Turner, the deputy chief psychiatric officer for CVS Health, said this can come as a surprise for some Arizonans.

“It’s a beautiful day, and you’re able to take walks and you’re able to enjoy nice weather, but that shortened length of the day is actually more impactful on mood than many Arizonans realize,” she said.

In part, that’s because the lack of a morning sun affects sleep, affecting mental health.

“It just has a really significant impact on our mood, and we really commonly, surprisingly, see seasonal affective disorder in Arizona,” Dr. Fernandez-Turner said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD) is a type of depression associated with interruptions in the body’s natural sleep patterns, often beginning in the fall and can last through the winter.

It’s not just the changing of the seasons that leads to a decline in mental health, the doctor said. There’s also increased stress surrounding the holiday season and increased expectations from loved ones and friends.

“And maybe they’re not feeling up to celebrating, as is expected in commercials and the media,” Dr. Fernandez-Turner said.

That’s why she offers two suggestions Arizonans should keep in mind throughout the holidays: Make time for self-care and check-in on others.

“Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Take those breaks, take those breathers. Focus on not just the joy you’re giving everyone else but making sure that you’re setting time to take care of you,” she said.

For those who are struggling, she said to not be afraid to reach out and establish an open conversation. This can be helpful to someone in need of help and can also give the person offering help a way to talk with someone else, too.

“Gently bring up, ‘are you okay, what can I do to support you?’” Dr. Fernandez-Turner said.

But there are situations where peer support and love are not enough. Sometimes therapy or other help from a mental health professional is necessary for someone to manage the struggles they face.

Dr. Fernandez-Turner said CVS Health offers help in-person and online.

“CVS Health actually has in-person counseling that’s available in select CVS stores and has virtual counseling available through the app, throughout Arizona,” she said.

The state also offers mental health help through the Arizona Health Costs Containment System (AHCCS).

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Changing of seasons linked to mental health challenges in Arizona