Is your child feeling SAD?

Short days, cold nights can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder in kids

Winter’s short days, unpleasant weather and long nights can make a child’s mood plummet like the thermometer.

If you’ve noticed your child seems blue at this time of year, he or she could be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that usually occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less daylight. Symptoms can range from mild mood swings to severe depression.

Most children with SAD experience a loss of interest and unexplained fatigue during the winter month, then return to feeling well as the days get longer in the spring.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Loss of interest in activities your child usually enjoys
  • Lower performance in school
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Weight gain

What causes SAD?

Experts believe that SAD is connected to the lack of daylight in the fall and winter months. Our lowered exposure to sunlight may affect two key chemicals — melatonin and serotonin — vital to regulating sleep-wake cycles, energy and mood.

As the days get shorter, we produce more melatonin, making us sleepier, and less serotonin, depressing our mood.

Who gets SAD?

About six in 100 people experience symptoms of SAD. Children with a family history of depression are more likely to get SAD, and girls are four times more likely than boys to develop it.

If you think your child has SAD

First, ensure your child gets yearly well checkups. Although mood and behavioral changes may seem like typical child/teen behavior, it’s important to seek medical advice early on. Your child’s physician can recommend treatment options ranging from light therapy, talk therapy and medication.

Practicing general wellness and self-care can help prevent or minimize the affects of SAD, as well as help kids develop lifelong habits of caring for their bodies and minds.

Try these ways to help alleviate the winter blues:

  • Layer on the warm clothes and spend extra time outside in the sunlight.
  • Open up blinds and let natural light into the home.
  • Be sure to get physical activity every day.
  • Make lots of fruits and vegetables available during the wintertime. Try frozen and canned if fresh items are unavailable or too costly.
  • Keep a regular sleep routine.
  • If schoolwork is suffering, seek tutoring or extra help and ensure the teachers are sensitive to your child’s condition.
  • Manage stress with activities such as listening to music, taking a hot bath, stretching, reading, arts and crafts, or other creative outlets your child enjoys.

If you feel your child is experiencing symptoms of depression or SAD, get help from a health care professional. Find a Norton Children’s pediatrician in your area.