Fairwinds Nantucket Counseling Center
Today's Nantucket

Winter on Nantucket and Our Mental Health

by Vanessa Park, Advancement Director
Fairwinds—Nantucket’s Counseling Center 

Winter is dark. The daylight is slow in coming and quick to leave. By the time high school kids walk out of sports practice it’s dark outside. Their parents might not ever see the sun if they go to work before it rises and leave after it sets. The raw winds of this beautiful island in winter can scrape away every semblance of patience and optimism if you are not having a good day, or week… or winter. 

Depression can create feelings of isolation no matter where you are, but on Nantucket there are numerous ways to connect and feel like part of a close-knit community. Still, we all need to bear in mind what the challenges are and how to address them. 

According to Psychology Today, 1o million Americans experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is most often linked to the shorter, darker days of winter, and is exacerbated by other seasonal stressors, such as regular winter unemployment. An additional 2-3 million people suffer from a milder form of SAD.  

In northern climates, like Nantucket, SAD is more prevalent. Its symptoms include all the usual symptoms of depression, from feelings of hopelessness to insomnia (or sleeping too much), loss of appetite (or weight gain), irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of suicide. 

Here on Nantucket, the winter season is exceptionally challenging for many people. In addition to the dark and cold, the stressors of life are tremendous on an island that depends on seasonal tourism but partly shuts down in the off-season. From housing and job insecurity to the high cost of living and seasonal unemployment, many in this community struggle mightily during the cold, windy months. 

At Fairwinds—Nantucket’s Counseling Center, we see a spike at this time of year—in referrals, people seeking appointments, and people walking in to the free Urgent Behavioral Healthcare Clinic (UBHC) where no appointment is needed. 

The agency opened the UBHC, now in its third year, to serve people on the island when they are feeling an urgent need to see a therapist. The clinic is for people to receive care from a master’s level clinician, no questions asked, no insurance needed—before things are at a crisis level—thus lowering the incidence of ER visits and disruptive, traumatic, and expensive trips off-island. 

Just as on the outer Cape, year-round residents of Nantucket have experienced tragedies whose effects ripple throughout the community. Adverse community experiences can lead to community trauma—which is experienced by multiple people within a close-knit and/or geographically defined group. 

One of the things that defines Nantucket is our sense of community. The resilience of Nantucket in the face of shared and individual trauma is dependent on a few things. 

  • One, breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and substance use. If people are ashamed to seek help, or afraid to talk to their suffering friends and family because of stigma, things can’t get better. 
  • Two, speaking up. As stigma is shattered, speaking up becomes more possible. Silence never solved a problem, helped anyone in need, or moved the needle on a community’s shared plight. 
  • Three, supporting one another. The kindness of strangers can change the course of a person’s life. There are countless people here on Nantucket who go out of their way to support others, on Nantucket Facebook groups, in person, through volunteering, and other acts of generosity.

At Fairwinds, our mission is to provide confidential, quality professional care to adults and youth on Nantucket who seek mental health and addiction services. All are welcome, regardless of ability to pay. This community is remarkable and special and we all count on each other, at every season of the year. 

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