Seasonal affective disorder: not just the blues

Winter can often be a stressful time with cold temperatures and snow making children and families feel like they are trapped inside. It’s normal to have a down day every once and awhile when kids are feeling tired and bored. If the blues continue for extended periods of time, parents should be on the lookout for signs of seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs during certain parts of the year and can have a large impact on everyday functioning. There are many different symptoms that can come with SAD, including:

  • Having more changes in mood such as higher sensitivity and irritability and feeling depressed for longer than two weeks
  • Lacking enjoyment of things that the child typically finds fun and exciting such as spending time with friends
  • Low energy levels with unexpected fatigue and changes in sleeping patterns
  • Increased eating, particularly of carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating and struggling in school

SAD impacts people of all ages and is caused by changes in hormone levels that are influenced by changes in daylight. Most people with SAD get it during the winter months when there is less sunlight during the day and this can change their circadian rhythm, and serotonin and melatonin levels. This can cause children to have problems with school, their social life and self-esteem. Parents can help their child cope with SAD. Try these helpful tips:

  • Treat it as a serious condition and consult with your pediatrician to help determine how to best help the child
  • Being outdoors and active promotes exercise and receiving more sunlight
  • Providing homework help and communicating with the child’s teacher about the condition can help alleviate some of the stress at school
  • Establishing a routine bed time schedule can help to promote circadian rhythm regulation
  • Creating healthy eating habits can also prevent weight gain and promote a healthy lifestyle

SAD

 

If you feel your child’s SAD interferes with their day-to-day functioning, you may want to consider consulting with a therapist.

NOTE: This information should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of a mental health condition. Call 612-871-1454 to learn more about Washburn Center’s mental health services for children.