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A tough winter to cope for many : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
A tough winter to cope for many
Agency notes spike in calls from people with depression and anxiety

by Matt Schury


It appears the harsh winter has taken its toll on people's psyches as well as their snow boots.

With just 28 days left until spring, things should begin to thaw out in the coming weeks but the rough winter has meant more were reaching out for help dealing with depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide than last year.

Stephanie Weber, executive director Suicide Prevention Services of America, says the agency has seen an increase in the number of calls this winter for people asking for help with depression.

"We have been exceedingly busy, phone lines, walk-ins-people's depression has kicked up," she said.

They have also noticed more suicides but she wouldn't necessarily attribute that to the weather as calls for help tend to spike in the springtime.

However, during the harshest part of this winter, from January through Feb. 14, the Batavia-based organization fielded 752 more total calls than the same time period last year.

Calls for help with depression were specifically up with 1,215 this year compared 863 last year.

"This is a lot. Anything having to do with depression is up," she said, adding that it is more than she thought.

With about a month left of winter, Weber recommends people reach out and connect with friends and loved ones.

"I think it really does help people to know that we are all in the same boat," she said. "We are all kind of waiting for this to be done, it's been a brutal winter."

Kendall County recently had two suicides in one week, something that Weber noticed and says concerns her.

"I'm always concerned in this line of work," she said. "Right now there seems to be a rise at least in our area."

She said that even just making a phone call to someone could make a difference or spending time watching a movie.

"Valentines Day is a good silly holiday in the middle of winter to have some fun, to wear a bright color, to send a card to someone and I keep telling people to get together for small gatherings or offer to meet someone for coffee," she said.

While a walk might not be in order when the thermostat dips below zero or the snow is flying, Weber says just stepping out onto the patio or stoop briefly to get some fresh air can help.

She adds that she realizes that some times it can be tough to talk to those dealing with suicide or anxiety, but it is important to try to reach out and follow up when you notice something wrong.

"You may suggest taking them to talk to someone and it's really taking them, it's not just giving them a referral," she said. "And if there is some resistance some times I will say to people ... I need to know how to help you. Would you come with me?"

Weber says that it's important to really listen to people and not try to give advice.

"When people say it's ridiculous-no it isn't, this is what's going through your mind. There's nothing ridiculous about it," Weber said.

But she says depression and anxiety are year round problems that people deal with.

Jason Andrade, mental health director at the Kendall County Health Department, agrees the temperature might lead to people feeling more isolated and increase feelings they already have.

"There's nothing that says when it gets to this temperature level that there is increased depression or anxiety. But definitely there is increased stress through a winter like this," Andrade said.

He recommends specifically connecting with the elderly and shut-ins who may already have limited abilities to socialize and get out of the house.

"Pick up the phone and make a call," he said. "We need to have safe and constructive ways to express our feelings-be it frustration from the winter, loneliness, sadness."

Volunteering can also be a great way to give back and feel a sense of purpose and being needed.

"There's always people who need our help, there's always someone in our community who needs our support, find ways where we can be useful and contribute to the well being of our community," he said.

Financial stress can also run high this time of year as people deal with post-holiday bills and spikes in heating and electricity costs.

"We've got to be mindful of having a meaningful budget," he said, adding discretionary spending can be cut back.

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