ParenTalk- Everything You Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Your Child
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder:
Seasonal Affective disorder or SAD is a type of depression that surfaces at the same time each year. In most cases, Seasonal Affective Disorder appears during winters. The affected person exhibits depression symptoms during winters but experiences relief as the days become longer again in spring.
People suffering from SAD also tend to have other conditions such as eating disorders, anxiety, panic disorder, or ADHD.
Nearly 10% of the people suffering from SAD exhibit symptoms in the opposite season, i.e. they feel depressed during summer and spring months and better during the winters.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder:
There isn’t any study or research to show the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder.
However, according to Mayoclinic, here are some factors that may have a role to play:
- Circadian Rhythm: Winter-onset SAD can be attributed to the disruption of the biological clock because of the decrease in sunlight. The disturbance in the biological clock, also called circadian rhythm, may cause depression.
- Serotonin level: The drop in sunlight also affects the levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Lower serotonin levels may also contribute to SAD.
- Melatonin levels: The melatonin in the body maintains the sleep pattern. An imbalance in melatonin levels will affect sleep and, thus, mood.
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:
The advent of winters is a particularly tough time for someone with seasonal affective disorder. They mostly show personality changes. If your child is experiencing these changes, you will notice low self-esteem, frequent episodes of them feeling disappointed, feeling of loneliness, or aloof behaviour. They mostly can not point out to reasons that may cause these feelings. The severity of these symptoms varies from child to child.
Here are some symptoms of winter SAD:
Irritable or unpredictable moods: You may notice that the child seems sad or irritated for at least 2 weeks at the same time each year. They may also be sensitive to criticism. Apart from crying or getting upset frequently, they may also have no inclination to socialize or enjoy. They may be disinterested in activities they usually enjoy.
Lack of energy and erratic sleep patterns: If they continually feel more tired than usual, it is most likely a symptom of SAD. Low energy may also mean sleeping for longer than usual and difficulty in staying awake during school.
Changed eating patterns: Seasonal affective disorder may also lead to appetite and diet changes. They may crave junk and sugary foods and overeat frequently. This may cause weight gain and thus impact self-esteem and cause self-criticism. Teens especially struggle with this because their body image matters a lot to them.
Lack of focus: A child struggling with SAD is likely to see a dip in grades and academic performance. This is because they find it increasingly difficult to concentrate. Trouble completing assignments or lack of motivation during specific months could show SAD.
Symptoms of summer SAD
People suffering from summer SAD may show other symptoms. These include:
- Trouble in falling asleep or long spells of sleeplessness
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal weight loss
- Increased anxiety
- Increased irritability
How to find out if your child is suffering from seasonal affective disorder:
If you notice behavioral changes in your child that you cannot trace back to any major life changes, it is a good time to consult your pediatrician. It is easy to dismiss it as a phase, but if you notice it at the onset of winters each year, it is most likely serious. If they are happy during other times of the year but show a lack of interest in socialization or studies during a fixed period, it could be a form of depression.
Mental health professionals can diagnose seasonal affective disorder by carefully
evaluating your child. They will also suggest a medical check-up to determine if there is another medical condition at the root of depression symptoms. This is because the occurrence of these conditions can make SAD diagnosis tricky.
Treatment of seasonal affective disorder:
If your child has been diagnosed with SAD, here are some treatments that your medical practitioner may prescribe:
- More exposure to light: SAD is triggered by the unavailability of adequate light and mellows down as the light exposure increases. It is thus advised to offer more light exposure during winters. Those with mild symptoms can benefit from some outdoor time. If that doesn’t work, it is a good idea to install full-spectrum lightbulbs in the house.
- Phototherapy: The doctor may prescribe phototherapy to a person exhibiting more severe symptoms of SAD. Phototherapy involves exposure to a special light that simulates daylight. The light source is a special lightbox or panel that the person will need to face for nearly 45 minutes daily. This will help improve the symptoms over a period of time. Remember, phototherapy should be used only when recommended by the doctor.
- Counseling: Psychotherapy or counseling can also be helpful for people struggling with SAD. This involves a professional talking to them about their negative thoughts and feelings to help them feel better. This can also be a good way to educate them about the condition and equip them with ways to prevent it in the future.
- Anti-depressants: Anti-depressants are usually prescribed to kids and teens, showing extreme symptoms. These drugs help to improve mood and energy by regulating the serotonin balance in the brain.
How can you deal with SAD symptoms at home?
Apart from following the treatment course prescribed by the doctor, here are some things you can do at home to ease the symptoms:
- Understand that your child is going through a lot, and support them emotionally
- Explain the condition to friends and family so they treat the child with empathy
- Help them get active and give them adequate outdoor time to boost their mood
- Be patient and don’t force them into situations that they don’t feel comfortable with
- Do not push them academically, help them with the assignments and goals instead
- Discuss the condition with your child’s teacher so they can support the child at school
- Ensure they get a balanced diet
- Inculcate a sleep routine that helps them get maximum benefits from the daytime hours
Depression can feel debilitating in many ways. If you suspect even minor symptoms in your child, consult a mental health practitioner.
Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.