Seasonal Affective Disorder in Children

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Some people suffer from symptoms of depression during the winter months, with symptoms subsiding during the spring and summer months.  This may be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder associated with depressive episodes and related to seasonal variations of light. As the amount of daylight decreases in the winter months, there are adults and children who begin to demonstrate symptoms of clinical depression.  Keep your eye on your children to see whether they experience a seasonal decline in academic achievement, activity or mood.

In a study conducted with 2267 middle and high school students in a suburb of Washington, D.C. 3.3% of the responding students showed symptoms of SAD.  The study concluded that between 1.7% and 5.5% of children between the ages of 9-19 might have SAD.  They also speculated that there is a relationship between SAD and puberty.

Symptoms: here are some of the changes to look for in your child if you suspect SAD (seasonal affective disorder):

  • sadness
  • anxiety/irritability
  • feeling tired
  • increase in “junk food” cravings
  • headaches
  • difficulty doing schoolwork
  • difficulty in concentrating
  • loss of desire to take part in activities
  • withdrawal from family & friends
  • crying spells
  • temper tantrums
  • problems with memory

In his book Winter Blues, Dr Norman E. Rosenthal ( a leading researcher at the National Institute of Health)states that you must approach this “emphatically and tactfully”.   Dr. Rosenthal suggests that you try showing how, in nature, people and animals deal with the changes of seasons. – Once the presence of SAD is accepted, destigmatized, and regarded as a manageable fact of life, and once the child or adolescent is recruited as a collaborator in the treatment process rather than the object of it, all specific suggestions become much easier to implement.”

Dealing with SAD will take organization on you and your child’s part. You may find that what works for adults, works with kids:

  • Help your child wake up in the morning (i.e. a light next to the bed with a timer, a dawn simulator, a radio alarm clock).
  • Encourage your child to wake up on his/her own as much as possible.
  • Encourage your child to participate in sports/leisure activities that offer an opportunity to be outdoors during daylight hours.
  • Make sure they get enough light whether it be natural or from a light therapy device.

Full spectrum high definition light therapy devices are available and can be easily researched and purchased on the internet. (helpful links will be added soon). If the symptoms listed above do not improve with the implementation of these suggestions, please contact our office to set up an appointment for further assessment.

Theresa Smith, MS, LCPC, NCC. Ms. Smith can be reached by calling the Center at 410-992-9149.