Seasonal Affective Disorder does not discriminate – children can be affected by this common type of depression. The following information will help you determine if your child is suffering from SAD, and how to address it.
As the cold winter months drag on, you may be noticing changes in your child’s behavior. At first you may have expected your suddenly surly teen to snap out of it, or your little one to pull out of the funk they seem to have settled into over the holidays. The fact is your child may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
While seasonal affective disorder isn’t present in all children, research suggests that as many as 1 million school-age children and teens in the U.S. may suffer from SAD according the American Academy of Pediatrics. This common form of depression is directly related to the seasonal variations in the amount of sunlight during the winter months.
Even though SAD is a fairly well-known disorder, recognizing SAD in children can be especially difficult. Symptoms are often less clear cut and easier to dismiss as a phase, stress, or boredom. It often takes time to recognize a seasonal pattern. With that said, the following symptoms can point to a potential problem.
- Irritability, crying spells
- Fatigue, loss of energy, unwillingness to play with friends
- Problems concentrating in school
- Sleeping problems and difficulty waking in the morning
- Craving and overeating carbohydrates and comfort food
Practical ways to address Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you think that your child might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s important that you contact your child’s physician to discuss alternatives for diagnosis and treatment. Light therapy is a common solution, but the following practical steps can also help the entire family pull out of hibernation mode throughout the dark days of winter.
- Get natural sunlight. Light boxes may be the commonly prescribed method, but regular sunlight can do wonders.
- Open the curtains raise the blinds and let the sun shine in!
- Sit near a window whenever possible whether at home, school, or work.
- Take walks during the brightest time of day.
Change your mindset. Find something to enjoy about winter. If you tend to complain throughout the winter, make the effort to find something to be thankful for each day. You have to get through the season one way or another, you might as well find something positive about it!
- Hang a bird feeder near a window and check it with your child each day.
- Build a snowman, go sledding or make paper snowflakes if you’d rather not go outside.
- Plan something with your family. Whether you are planning a garden, a party or a vacation, actively engaging minds with positive thoughts can help lift spirits.
Clean your home. This may not be the most exciting way to alleviate SAD, but starting spring cleaning early can help.
- Declutter one drawer, one room at a time.
- Donate excess to the needy. Helping others has a positive effect on mood according to the Journal of Positive Psychology.
- Buy an ionizer to keep the air in your home fresh.
- Fill home with the scent of natural spices and herbs.
Provide physical support. Depression attacks both the mind and the body so be sure to offer practical help in the way of nutrition and sleep, as well as rely on the benefits of mood altering support from music and laughter.
- Emphasize healthy meals, heavy on fresh ingredients and produce, very light on processed foods and sugar.
- Make sure everyone gets the proper amount of sleep. Emphasize bedtimes as well as getting up in the morning.
- Turn up the tunes. Even without knowing any research studies about how music changes perception, you probably know that certain types of music change how you feel. Use this to your advantage by playing music in your home frequently.
- Laugh as a family. According to Basement Medicine from Johnston State College, laughter is said to release a brain chemical that counteracts SAD. Watch comedy shows, take the time to share funny anecdotes that happen throughout the day, watch funny YouTube clips especially those that show others laughing. My family especially loves the BBC Walk on the Wild Side clips of voice over animals.
Most importantly though, if you think your child or anyone else in your family is experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, make an appointment with your healthcare provider for additional support.