Re-thinking winter and mental health

Winter is finally upon us. And in Multnomah County, that means colder weather, lots of rain and less sunlight. Combined, that’s a recipe for what we call the ‘Winter Blues’, which describes feelings of sadness that occur as soon as the weather changes.

The Winter Blues is a very real thing. And thankfully, there are a number of ways to address those symptoms. A few places to start are light therapy, moderate exercise, avoiding excessive drug or alcohol use, and ensuring you’re taking time to practice self care. When those strategies don’t work, it might be time to talk to a professional who’s skilled in helping people overcome depression.

But there’s a common misconception about winter and mental health: that the change in seasons leads to a rise of suicides in our region. Actually, the opposite is true. In Multnomah County, we receive fewer notifications of suicides during the winter than any other season. We actually experience an increase after winter, as we transition into spring and summer. 

It’s hard to explain why suicides tend to decrease this time of year. Many believe it has to do with there being more social supports during the holidays. Suicide prevention experts also believe that the winter might reduce people’s motivation and energy to act on thoughts of suicide.

No matter why we see a decrease in suicides during this time of year, it’s important that we always watch out for those who are vulnerable. We still see people attempting and dying by suicide regularly. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant, to know what to look for, and how to talk with someone if you are concerned. Here are some behaviors to watch out for:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself

  • Looking for a way to kill oneself

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain

  • Talking about being a burden to others

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless

  • Sleeping too little or too much

  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated

  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Any time you see someone showing these signs, it’s important to seek help. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, contact our 24/7 Mental Health Call Center at 503-988-4888. Our staff are professionals who are skilled at intervening and connecting people to ongoing services and supports.

To learn more, visit Get Trained To Help. The program is a regional effort to improve our community's awareness about mental health and suicide prevention. Through Get Trained To Help, anyone in our community can register for free, comprehensive trainings on how to spot the signs of a mental health issue and help connect someone to a professional. By getting trained, you can help save a life in our community.