When people are feeling down or having troubles, one outlet is to call an employee assistance program counselor. And in this hard winter, they've been calling a lot.
ComPsych a worldwide employee assistance program, reported a 22% increase of counseling calls in the USA in January vs. last year. Rich Chaifetz, chairman of ComPsych and a psychiatrist, said a lot of the calls have been about dealing with the weather.
"Weather has been a real issue for people, they are stuck in their houses and focused more internally," Chaifetz said. He noted that many calls were also related to help with transportation in the winter weather. "We tend to see post-holiday blues issues, when people get credit card bills and the holiday euphoria drops off, but weather this year seems to have made things even worse for people."
But some think the calls are prompted not by the traditional winter blues, but simply by the frustrations with hard weather.
Jon Gottschalck, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, says this year has been colder than the last few years of mild winters.
"The winter is quite a shock this year because the pattern has been persistently colder weather," Gottschalck said.
The pattern of colder weather started with outbreaks of freezing temperatures in the central USA in late November and over the last few months has moved along the central plains through Texas and across the East, according to Gottschalck.
He said the weather caused further upset in regions like the Southeast where there is usually not much winter precipitation, but since the New Year those areas have experienced first the Polar Vortex, which blew arctic air across the North and Southeast, and now this week an onset of snow and ice. Gottschalck said winter is not over and there is nothing to say this is the new normal.
Scott Bea, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said while this winter is making things harder for people in the Midwest and eastern part of the USA, the winter blues and seasonal depression are probably not the culprit.
"More of us are noticing this winter is worse but it's probably not causing depression," Bea said, noting the weather is causing more frustration in terms of shoveling snow, electricity outages, and making it harder to get places. "Most likely the weather is just causing more complaints."
While a half million of the U.S. population suffers from winter seasonal depression, and 10% may suffer from a milder form known as the winter blues, Bea said the majority of those affected by seasonal depression usually live in typically cloudy areas or high elevations. He said some blame seasonal depression on changes in sunlight availability.
Bea said for most people struggling with cabin fever caused by bad weather and looking to combat the blues the key is staying busy.
"Exercising, eating right and weather permitting getting out and socializing" are important, said Bea, stressing if someone is depressed they should see a doctor. "If nothing works, see a psychiatrist."