As Autumn Falls

By Carey Gauzens, LCSW, CP

Autumn in the forest.As fall gets into full swing and school begins again, we gear up for leaving summer behind and getting into the pace of the academic year. Summer clothes are put away, fall weather is prepared for and kids either grumble or celebrate the beginning of a new year at school (depending on how they feel about school!) Grownups and kids alike can feel the quickened pace as the last days of summer fade, and we launch into fall.

At the same time, fall, and the prospect of the winter that will follow, can bring its own set of stressors. Parents and kids alike often take on more stress, as they try to manage tighter schedules, and more demands on their time. Those who love the fall colors and the cooler weather rejoice, while those who are not fans of the cold weather bid a mournful goodbye to the warmth of the summer sun. As fall schedules get into full swing and winter waits close behind, it is a good time to talk a bit about mental health. Just as our physical health can sometimes fluctuate with the seasons (more colds or flu as the weather gets colder, sunburns when the summer sun is high) so can our feelings fluctuate with the seasons.

Here are just a few mental health issues to be aware of, as fall rolls around:

Stress Certainly this topic is one that is well known by nearly all. Make sure that you are taking good care of yourself, and as the leisure of summer fades for this year, into the beauty of the autumn, make sure that you are still making time, for yourself as well as your kids, for PLAY. Fun is antithetical to stress. It is tough to be stressed when laughing. While you are planning for school, for tutoring schedules and for van pools, make sure that you are scheduling time in for some fun, too!

School Phobia/Separation Anxiety Each year at this time, whether it is college students or new kindergarteners, there are students who experience a harder than average time starting school, or returning to school. This can especially be true if the child has had a difficult prior year, of if they are in a transitional time (first year in middle school, high school or college or newly transferred to a different school). Some anxiety is normal at the beginning of each academic year, but if your child is experiencing anxiety to the point that they are repeatedly avoiding school or ‘feeling sick’ in the mornings before they go to school, it may be wise to consider seeking the help of a trusted friend, another parent or the school counselor. The earlier a parent can intervene in a school anxiety issue, the more likely it will be resolved sooner, and not become a pattern throughout the school year. Remember, too, separation anxiety is not just for the kids! As a therapist friend said to me recently as her daughter began kindergarten, “There were a lot of tears. None of them were hers!”

Seasonal depression As the days shorten, and our mornings and evenings become a bit darker, some people may experience more days of feeling sad or blue, or find themselves with less energy, or feeling listless or unhappy. Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), which is a type of depression that manifests as a result of decreased broad spectrum natural sunlight, can be battled these days with relatively inexpensive “light boxes,” support from friends, ministers and counselors, and if necessary with medication for depression. It is important to note that even those who tend toward feeling blue throughout the year, or know that they struggle with depression may also find their symptoms a bit exacerbated by shorter, colder days.

A final word about depression I would like to say a word about suicide prevention. There is little more devastating than feeling hopeless, and there is little that brings fear into the heart of a loved one more than seeing a family member or dear friend struggling with feelings and thoughts about suicide. Research shows that at some time or another, nearly every person will have at least some fleeting thought of, “I wish I were not here,” or, “Death must be more peaceful than this [pain I am going through currently.”]

Suicidal thoughts and feelings are always to be taken seriously, whether in a child, adolescent, adult or a senior citizen. If you, or someone you love, are struggling with such feelings:


By definition, a crisis is a time limited event, however sometimes emotional pain can feel so unbearable that we begin to seek a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If this is the case, seek the guidance of a trusted friend, or family member, your pastor or a counselor. Counselors at the Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia are trained not only in how to help those feeling sadness and hopelessness themselves, but also how to help the “helpers.” Pastors, parents and teachers are often the ones who hear first when someone is feeling in crisis. There ARE specific things that you can do to help a loved one who is feeling hopeless or suicidal, and counselors at CPC can help you figure out how to implement strategies to help the person, while also helping you take care of yourself. Please remember; the topic of suicide is a tremendously frightening one for most people, and need never be dealt with alone.

Please call 703-903-9696 x290 to speak with our Referral Coordinator, or see our website at to read more about CPC counselors in your area. And remember: “For everything there is a season.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Let the beauty of the fall lift you up.

Carey Gauzens, LCSW, CP works in our Alexandria Center, and can be reached at 703-903-9696 x255. Carey worked as a counselor, supervisor and trainer for a crisis intervention/suicide prevention hotline in Tallahassee, Florida. She now uses this experience to speak with church, school and civic groups about crisis intervention and suicide prevention (and other topics) as well as to help those in crisis find healing, and come out the other side stronger, with more tools to cope with future hurts.

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