Tips on Spotting Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that emerges in the fall and winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight and then lifts in the spring and summer. While it has not been well-researched in children and adolescents, studies estimate that 3% - 5% of youth aged 9-17 experience SAD. SAD is more common in older teens and in girls.
SAD can be difficult to diagnose in youth, in part because youth have particular stressors that occur in the fall and winter months such as school, athletics and social situations.
The most common signs and symptoms of SAD are:
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decline in school performance
- Decreased interest in things typically enjoyed
- Changes in eating habits – craving foods high in carbohydrates, weight gain
The duration and severity of symptoms are the best indicators that your child may be experiencing SAD and not just the winter blahs.
Treatment of SAD in youth has not been well-studied. Light boxes, which are frequently recommended for adults with SAD, are less commonly used for youth because there hasn’t been much research on their effectiveness in a younger population. Some cases of SAD may be treated by:
- Spending time outside during daylight hours
- Getting at least one hour of exercise every day
- Eating healthy
- Getting enough sleep
For other cases of SAD, these activities may need to be augmented with psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and/or medication.
If you think that your child may be experiencing symptoms of SAD, make an appointment with their healthcare provider. Other possible causes of symptoms, such as hypothyroidism or mononucleosis, should be ruled out. If appropriate, your healthcare provider may refer you and your child to a mental health professional.