Coping with bipolar disorder during winter: Vancouver musician shares story

The first question Sarah Jickling always got when she sought medical help for her feelings of crippling sadness and lethargy in the winter was, "Are you from here?"

Sarah Jickling describes connection between seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder

Sarah Jickling is a musician and mental health advocate in Vancouver. (Nelson Mouellic)

When Vancouver resident Sarah Jickling sought medical help for feelings of crippling sadness and lethargy during winter, the first question she was asked was, "Are you from here?"

Doctors thought she had seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that is related to the change in seasons. It can affect anyone but newcomers unaccustomed to the West Coast's short winter days and overcast skies may be caught off guard. 

"Unfortunately, I'm from here," the musician told CBC guest host of On The Coast Gloria Macarenko.

Jickling went from one walk-in clinic to another, trying to find answers.

Eventually, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

It turns out many people affected by the mood disorder are also affected by the gloomy winter weather. Psychiatrists told her the shorter days can trigger an episode.

Dealing with seasonal changes

Jickling said some people with bipolar disorder increase their medication dosage during winter while others focus on trying to find happiness in the colder months.

Last year, she focused on celebrating everything winter-lovers delight in from Christmas markets to lighting candles to cozying up in a home wafting with the smells of cinnamon.

"I tried really hard to get into that thing," Jickling said. "This year, I'm accepting it — I'm accepting that this time of the year, things are going to be harder."

Available resources

Based on her own experience in Vancouver, Jickling listed the following resources for someone struggling with mental illness or concerned about their mental health:

To hear more, click on the audio below:

The first question Sarah Jickling always got when she sought help for her feelings of crippling sadness and lethargy in the winter was “Are you from here?” 11:49

With files from On The Coast