More Than Winter Blues


With winter looming, many people are preparing for another bout of seasonal depression. NAMI Minnesota shares tips for seniors living with this seasonal condition.

For almost all of us, winter is a dark time. But for those living with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the bitterly cold days are much more than winter blues. Because many symptoms of SAD can mimic other health issues, many people go undiagnosed for far too long. For seniors, this can be detrimental to their wellbeing and overall outlook on their later life. With resources like NAMI Minnesota, seniors don’t have to manage it alone.

NAMI Minnesota, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults living with mental illnesses, offers education, support, and advocacy to people with mental illnesses and their families. NAMI Minnesota champions justice, dignity, and respect for all people affected by mental illness, according to the organization’s mission statement.

One demographic of NAMI Minnesota’s clientele is older adults. Mental illness in seniors is often attributed to aging, but NAMI Minnesota wants people to know that mental illness is not a normal part of aging.

More than 80 percent of older adults diagnosed with depression can be effectively treated. NAMI Minnesota suggests seeing your health care provider if you’re concerned about depression or to rule out other medical conditions. Medications, talk therapy, education, and support can help you feel better in addition to a healthy diet, less stress, exercise, affirming relationships, activities you enjoy, and a spiritual connection, according to the NAMI Minnesota website.

For folks who work or live with older adults who might be struggling with mental illnesses, NAMI Minnesota offers a series of educational courses called “Gray Matters.” A series of five educational programs, Gray Matters is targeted toward audiences that might include senior workers in assisted living, long-term care facilities, adult day programs, rehab facilities, senior centers, and senior housing. Others might include pastoral care, health clinic staff, parish nurses, case managers, Meals on Wheels volunteers, hospice staff, and volunteers.

Gray Matters: Understanding Depression in Older Adults is a course dedicated to talking about risk factors, warning signs, stigma, treatment, recovery, prevention, and resources for older adults living with depression.

Kay King, older adult program coordinator & community educator for NAMI Minnesota, says it’s important to keep in mind that seasonal depression and winter blues are not the same thing, but that doesn’t mean that SAD can’t be diagnosed and treated.

“SAD is a diagnosable illness. A good first step is for the older adult to see their doctor, either on their own or with the support of their adult children,” King says. “Signs of depression can mimic other health conditions and can be the side effect of medical procedures and other medications.”

Another thing to keep in mind when working with older adults (or people in general) with mental illnesses is to avoid using the word “suffer,” King says. “We try not to use the word ‘suffer.’ ‘Suffer’ suggests chronic, untreatable, no hope, when in fact, people manage their illnesses and live a life (go to school, work, volunteer, raise children and grandchildren, etc.),” King says. “People experiencing mental illnesses recover. One older adult stat that I think is very hopeful is that 80 percent of older adults experiencing depression get better with support.”

In addition to the Gray Matters educational courses, King suggests Older Adult Mental Health First Aid, also taught by NAMI Minnesota. The eight-hour class helps people who interact with older adults to better understand their mental health needs.

“Also our support groups are for adults of all ages. They are called Connections and are for those living with a mental illness, and we also have family support groups,” King says. “Older adults can be family members, having an adult child managing an illness or having a spouse/partner who lives with a mental illness, as examples.”

Fore more information about NAMI Minnesota, visit

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