Talk to your doctor if you suspect your child has SAD. Doctors and mental health professionals make a diagnosis of SAD after a careful evaluation and a checkup to ensure that symptoms aren’t due to a medical condition that needs treatment. Tiredness, fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep, and low energy can be signs of other medical problems, such as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, or mononucleosis.
When symptoms of seasonal depression first develop, it’s not uncommon for parents to attribute low motivation, energy, and interest to an intentional poor attitude. Learning about Seasonal Affective Disorder can help them understand another possible reason for the changes, easing feelings of blame or impatience with their child or teen.
Parents sometimes are unsure about how to discuss their concerns and observations. The best approach is usually one that’s supportive and nonjudgmental. Try opening the discussion saying something like, “You haven’t seemed yourself lately ‚Äî you’ve been so sad and grouchy and tired, and you don’t seem to be having much fun. It seems like you’ve been feeling kind of worn out and exhausted ‚Äî like you just can’t get enough sleep. So, I’ve made an appointment for you to get a checkup. I want to help you to feel better and get back to doing your best and enjoying yourself again.”
Here are a few things you can do if your child or teen has been diagnosed with SAD:
- Participate in your child’s SAD treatment. Ask the doctor how you can best help your child.
- Help your child understand SAD. Learn about the disorder and provide simple explanations. Remember, concentration might be difficult, so it’s unlikely your child will want to read or study much about SAD ‚Äî if so, just recap the main points.
- Encourage your child to get plenty of exercise and to spend time outdoors. Take a daily walk together.
- Find quality time. Spend a little extra time with your child ‚Äî nothing special, just something low-key that doesn’t require much energy. Bring home a movie you might enjoy or share a snack together. Your company and caring are important and provide personal contact and a sense of connection.
- Be patient. Don’t expect symptoms to go away immediately. Remember that low motivation, low energy, and low mood are part of SAD ‚Äî it’s unlikely that your child will respond cheerfully to your efforts to help.
- Help with homework. You may have to temporarily provide hands-on assistance to help your child organize assignments or complete work. Explain that concentration problems are part of SAD and that things will get better again. Kids and teens with SAD may not realize this and worry that they’re incapable of doing the schoolwork. You may also want to talk to the teachers and ask for extensions on assignments until things get better with treatment.
- Help your child to eat right. Encourage your child to avoid loading up on simple carbohydrates and sugary snacks. Provide plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
- Establish a sleep routine. Encourage your child to stick to a regular bedtime every day to reap the mental health benefits of daytime light.
- Take it seriously. Don’t put off evaluation if you suspect your child has SAD. If diagnosed, your child should learn about the seasonal pattern of the depression. Talk often about what’s happening, and offer reassurance that things will get better, even though that may seem impossible right now.