Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is more common in teens and young adults, but it sometimes affects children. Here, Dr. Jennifer Collins explains the symptoms of SAD in kids, how to know if your child has SAD, and what to do if you think your child has SAD.
Winter months are filled with celebratory sounds, sights, and flavors. But for some, the cold temperatures and shorter days aren’t such a joyous time and can bring about symptoms of sadness and irritability. This can be especially difficult in children and you might wonder: Is this a phase or something more serious?
What is seasonal affective disorder?
Symptoms of depression that surface during the winter months are referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). About six out of 100 people develop SAD. It is more common in teens and young adults than in young children.
How do I know if my child has SAD?
It can be difficult for children to express feelings of sadness or a loss of pleasure in activities they normally enjoy. Signs to look for are:
- Lack of concentration
- Poor performance in school
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Cravings for simple carbohydrates and/or overeating
- Loss of interest in activities he/she once enjoyed
- Changes in his/her desire to socialize with friends
The change may come on gradually, as the days grow shorter, and progressively improve with the arrival of spring and longer exposure to sunshine.
What causes SAD?
While we don’t understand the exact cause of SAD, researchers suspect that the decreased exposure to sunshine changes important levels of brain chemicals like melatonin and serotonin, which can affect a person’s mood.
What should I do if I suspect my child has SAD?
In mild cases, it can be as simple as spending more time outside. Regular exercise outdoors—even if it’s overcast—can increase your child’s exposure to sunshine and will help your child feel more like himself. Check out these articles for some fun local ideas:
Where to go skiing and snowboarding
Where to find outdoor skating rinks
Places to go sledding in Manhattan
Search the NYMetroParents calendar for outdoor activities near you
Speak with your physician if the symptoms are more severe or you are unsure if your child has SAD. In some cases, your doctor may recommend phototherapy with lamps. In more serve cases, medication may be necessary.
If your child suffers from SAD, being proactive as the days get shorter can help symptoms from getting too severe. Here are some preventative measures to take:
- Keep a regular routine of eating healthy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and try to avoid simple carbohydrates and sugary snacks.
- Provide gentle guidance during homework and goal-directed activities.
- Spend time outside each day, to exercise and to get adequate exposure to sunshine.
- Maintain normal sleep routines.
Whether your child’s symptoms are mild or severe, take them seriously and be supportive. And remember that your pediatrician is ready to help with guidance and advice if necessary.
Jennifer Collins, M.D., is an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in Manhattan and the chief medical spokesperson for Cold-EEZE.