Seasonal depression is a challenging, yet common mood disorder that people face throughout the winter months. As the nights get colder and the days get shorter, depression as a result of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, becomes very real for many.

Haley French is a 22-year-old from the Hudson Valley taking steps to tackle depression and anxiety.

“Something that’s really big for me is being open about what I’ve been through. I think it helps to kind of open up connections with other people,” French said.

French has been seeing Dianna Chillo, a licensed clinical social worker based in New Windsor, for seven years. Chillo said many patients seem to struggle a little more around this time of year. It begins at the start of the fall and can go into the spring and is mostly triggered by less natural light during traditional daytime hours.

“I do experience depression year-long, but it definitely worsens when autumn hits up until spring. The darker days and the shorter days definitely make you lose desire to really do anything. I definitely feel exhausted,” French said.

Chillo said some warning signs of SAD include an increase in fatigue and appetite resulting in weight gain, lack of focus, loss of interest, social isolation and a change in sleeping habits.

“My rule of thumb a lot of the times with people is if these symptoms are occurring on more days than not over the course of two to four weeks, than there’s probably an issue, and it’s probably time to seek out some sort of support,” Chillo said.

In addition to talking about it, French tries to do things that make her happy, such as spending time with her dog and family or exercising.

“It’s hard to put on a front and pretend like you’re OK when you’re not, so it’s really great to share things with people that you’re comfortable with, so they know what you’re going through, and they can kind of help you through it,” French said.

Chillo suggests getting sunlight, sticking to a sleep schedule, and even light therapy. But of all the options, talking to a professional is the most important one.

“Therapy is helpful to help each person who is going through it to address their specific issues with their depression and help them cope in ways that are very specific to how their symptoms impact their life. I think talking about it, making space for it to help you learn how to cope are the best ways to get through it,” Chillo said.

Chillo said that she’s seeing more patients thanks to virtual visits, as help becomes more available and mainstream.

“We don’t have to just refer within our area. People can see therapists outside of just driving distance,” Chillo said.

When spring approaches, French said she feels a quick mood change.

“I immediately feel happier. I feel more motivated, definitely,” French said.

She said feeling depressed is nothing to be ashamed of.

“Don’t be afraid to go seek out help, because it really will make all the difference,” French said.