As the days grow shorter and colder, experts say people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder will be facing much larger mental-health challenges this winter. When combined with the anxiety and isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials in Greater Sudbury say many residents will face unprecedented challenges.

Officials with the Sudbury branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association said mental health is at the forefront of everybody’s concerns this year and people should act now to prepare.

“Both characteristics of SAD with what is going on with the pandemic can be seen in two different factors," said Sue Tassé of the CMHA. "One is if people have already started to adjust and have healthier lifestyles and adjusted their habits -- even daily rhythms -- it could be a protective factor for some. For others, they’ll have to be paying more attention to some of the symptoms of SAD because it could be highly increased.”

Tassé said the combination of two major mental health stressors is unprecedented.

'Something that we’ve never seen before'

“It is going to be something that we’ve never seen before -- a pandemic plus COVID and seasonal affective disorder. There are no studies out there that can actually tell us what this is going to bring except that we should be getting ready to be able to help anyone that is suffering from mental illness or mental wellness concerns.”

Some people in Sudbury said their normal coping mechanism – getting together with friends and socializing in general – has been hampered by the pandemic.

“Especially as a student, coping mechanisms are often social events, getting together with your friends, trying to get together and talk about difficulties to get over difficulties," one student told CTV. "So that’s been challenging with COVID. And then the weather -- it’s dark when I go into clinical practice and it’s dark when I leave clinical practice, so it leaves sort of a dreary feeling most of the day.”

“All the social events I used to go to have come to a halt so I feel like I’ve had to be proactive and start doing those things for myself and small amounts. So, like, four people at a time we try to get together and do yoga or meditation and kind of the same people all the time.”

The CMHA said if people are experiencing seasonal affective disorder symptoms, it's best to step outside and get some fresh air and natural sunlight.

The CMHA also has a resource called the Bounceback Program, available to anyone who is struggling with their mental health.