Mental Health in Alberta: A Guide to Seasonal Affective Disorder and Long Term Disability Claims

The cold winter months in Alberta bring with them unique challenges that can be difficult for anyone to manage, namely the lack of sunlight. The frigid weather pushes us indoors, and coupled with shorter days overall, that isolation can have a profound impact on our mental health.

Mental Health Strategies in the Cold

Shift work may make it feel as though you’re chasing the sun: heading into work and emerging from a long day at the job with the light diminished, or completely gone from the sky. Similarly, the cold weather can make it more difficult to take a step away from work when you’re working from home or remotely because there’s no real incentive to do so. In fact, people often burn out at this time of year because they don’t make plans for their own leisure.

Certainly, there are other material conditions that can affect our ability to successfully balance work in our lives, like our health, income, or housing status, but however we find it, it’s necessary to developing a strong support system for our mental health. The Edmonton branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association suggests thinking of mental health holistically, and that taking care of your mental health also involves approaching it from physical and social standpoints.

Winter sports and nature walks are just some of the kinds of activities which stimulate our minds, bodies, and can easily become a social event — satisfying all three elements of mental well-being. In fact, Alberta has a beautiful landscape worth exploring, from the rocky mountain peaks of Banff National Park to the evening glow of the Northern Lights, the natural world is abundant and has much to offer to get you out of the house and moving.

Other kinds of activities that you may be interested in:

  • Volunteering. Though it may seem counterintuitive, self-care begins with community care. Studies have found an association between volunteering and lower mortality rates. Volunteering for a cause, community group, or charity you’re interested in can be a great way to get out of the house, meet face-to-face with others, and develop stronger feelings of commitment to where you live and the people around you, which in turn can have a profound affect on your mood.
  • Play a sport. From hockey to curling, to outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, there are sports out there for everyone, at every skill and mobility level. Some cycling enthusiasts don’t even let a little snow stop them, hopping on a sturdy fat bike to tear across the snow-covered trails. There are facilities in your community, like the University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre that offer gear rentals to get you started.
  • Prioritize your sleep. Sleeping feels like an indulgence but embracing the lack of light with lots of rest can be very good for us in the pursuit of maintaining good mental health. There’s a good reason other mammals hibernate during the winter months, and we should follow their lead! Getting into a habit of maintaining a regular bedtime and striving to avoid screens well before you drift off are the foundations of good sleep hygiene.
  • Eat well. Having a balanced diet can be difficult in the winter months when the season oscillates between the prevalence of sweets throughout the holidays, and all the incentives around us to cut out “unhealthy” habits rack up come January 1st. Neither is entirely good for our physical or mental well-being. Instead, Alberta Health Services offers workshops, classes, and nutrition counselling with registered dieticians to help answer questions and develop a relationship with food that works for you, your body, and mind.

Recognizing the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is onset by the shorter hours of daylight that we experience in the fall and winter months. This depression manifests in many ways, including lower energy levels, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness or sadness, and less enthusiasm or overall disengagement from tasks and hobbies you might normally perform without issue.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your family doctor. There are a number of interventions and ranges of professional aids from light therapy to counselling, which can help you manage your symptoms throughout the darker, colder months.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital, says that women are at a higher risk of experiencing SAD, as are people who live far north of the equator, or who have a history of it in their family.

Over time, SAD can severely affect an individual’s work and quality of life.

In crisis? Get help

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, threatening self-harm, or having a mental or substance-abuse related crisis, get help right away.

  • Call or text 9-8-8
  • Call Talk Suicide Canada — 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645
  • Kids or teens can call Kids Help Phone — 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868.
  • Indigenous Hope for Wellness Line — 1-855-242-3310
  • National Trans Lifeline — 1-877-330-6366

Employment Challenges and Mental Health

Navigating through the challenges of SAD or work-related stress can profoundly impact your job performance, productivity, and overall engagement, especially in regions like Alberta where employee health surveys have found that stress levels among workers are notably high. Recognizing the toll these issues can take on individuals, it’s crucial to consider avenues for long-term support.

In such situations, Long Term Disability benefits can provide critical assistance. Typically designed to cover disabilities that are expected to last longer than six months, LTD benefits act as income replacement for individuals whose disability makes it difficult or impossible to work.

LTD benefits follow Short Term Disability benefits, which last only for a defined period, depending on the employer’s policy or plan.

Navigating Long-Term Disability Claims in Alberta

Along with autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue and pain syndromes, and musculoskeletal disorders, LTD benefits in Alberta also typically cover various mental health conditions.

LTD benefits usually pay somewhere between 60% and 80% of the beneficiary’s pre-disability income. The final amount varies policy to policy, however, as some may have a cap, may be taxable, consider other streams of income available to the beneficiary, or have differing coverage periods, before arriving at that figure. It’s important to contact your specific insurance provider or consult the policy to have the most complete information regarding LTD benefit payments and to learn what you might be eligible for.

At the stage where you’re considering filing for a LTD claim, it’s important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. There are a lot of barriers involved in that process, but it’s a step that helps support your disability claim and increases your chances of having it approved. You can also take steps to gather supporting medical documentation about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing over time.

A law firm can support you through this challenging process, especially if the insurance company denies your claim. Preszler Injury Lawyers have been working with disabled Canadians for over 60 years to ensure they receive the benefits they’ve been denied. If you’re seeking compensation from an insurer, we can help, and have lawyers in Alberta ready to talk to you and learn about your case. Contact Preszler Injury Lawyers for a free, no obligation consultation at 1-888-494-7191.