While we have yet to see the typical Midwestern January of snow and sub-zero wind chills in 2022, we have not escaped the oft-referenced most depressing month of the year. I so dread the sunless days of winter that my mantra of the days are getting longer starts on the December 21st solstice.
This is the time of the year that the offices at AWS Foundation are aglow, not with Christmas lights but with SAD desktop lights. Whether it is the grey days, the cold, the guilt of already failed resolutions, or CDR (Christmas Debt Remorse), we all struggle a bit with those post-holiday blues. And lets not forget the challenges compounded with COVID.
There is a reason that January is Mental Wellness Month (not to be confused with Mays Mental Health Awareness Month). Remember, the lack of mental illness is not the same as the presence of mental health.
For the person with a disability, January can be that combination of negative events and conditions in freakish alignment and create the proverbial Perfect Storm for depression.
Adults with disabilities are five times more likely to suffer from mental and emotional health disorders than those without a disability. The person with early signs of mental illness may be easily agitated, socially withdrawn, have low energy, anxiety, or difficulty concentrating. One challenge is that these may be attributes already present in a person with a disability.
Go ahead and Google January Blues. Ignoring the first four posts for the hockey team, St. Louis Blues, the results numbered 1,560,000,000 (thats billions)! There is limitless advice on how to manage this month of Mondays including exercising and seeking out new activities. But what are the options when access barriers limit a persons ability to engage in the most recommended practices to manage winter melancholy?
What can the disabled person do if a brisk walk or an exercise class are not options?
- Be alert to early identification of the problem.
- SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lights at just a few minutes a day can help before the hole of despair gets too deep.
- Deep breathing or meditation can be as important as that brisk walk, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Observe and record sleep patterns. Too much, too little, or early morning awakening can signal impending problems.
- Positive messages from yourself or others can interrupt those pathways to negativity.
- Basic healthy diets with water, nutritious foods, and limited processed or high sugar foods can avoid those extremes with blood sugar levels that fuel those blues.
- Dont hesitate to add mental health therapy to the list of other treatments that contribute to optimum performance (OT, PT, ST, etc.).
If you support an individual with a disability, be alert to those early signs. Making daily check-in calls and asking how they are doing can be the tether that is needed to ride out this challenging time. Remember, the days are getting longer. Watch for that first robin of spring and the buds on the trees. You may find that you are supporting each other.