Seasonal Mood Changes: SAD

  • About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

    A form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, SAD appears and disappears at the same time each year. People with SAD usually have symptoms of depression as winter approaches and daylight hours become shorter. When spring returns and the days become longer again, they experience relief from the symptoms and a return to a normal mood and energy level.

    Symptoms and Signs

    It's sometimes easy for parents to overlook symptoms of SAD, or dismiss them as normal mood swings. Aside from feeling sad or depressed, your child may be irritable, feel tired, have difficulty concentrating, experience changes in school performance, or have decreased interest in things they usually enjoy. Your child's eating habits may also be affected as some people with SAD have changes in their appetite or crave carbohydrates. 

    Even if your child is showing a few of these symptoms, it doesn't necessarily mean they have SAD. It's not uncommon for people to want to stay in during the winter or to feel more tired. The timeframe and severity of symptoms are the biggest telltale signs that your kid is experiencing more than the normal winter blahs. If symptoms persist for two weeks, or they're so severe your child is having difficulty functioning, contact your pediatrician or a licensed mental health professional who has expertise working with children.

    Prevent SAD

    There's no known way to avoid SAD, but practicing general healthy habits may be helpful. That means having your child spend time outside during daylight hours, making sure they get at least an hour of exercise every day, offering them healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, and encouraging them to get enough sleep.

    Staying connected with your child may be beneficial, too. Talking with your child about their day and letting them know they can come to you to talk about their feelings or any problems they might be having may help reduce stress, which has been found to increase symptoms. Tuning in to your child will also keep you alert to any changes in their behavior so that you can address them more quickly.

    Treatment

    If you suspect your child is affected by SAD, talk to your pediatrician or a licensed mental health professional who has expertise working with children. Treatment for SAD, which varies depending on the severity of the symptoms, includes:

    Increased light exposure. Spend more time outside during the daylight hours or use a full-spectrum (daylight) lightbulbs that fit in regular lamps to help bring a bit more daylight into winter months. 

    Light therapy (phototherapy). More troublesome symptoms may be treated with a stronger light that simulates daylight. A special lightbox or panel is placed on a tabletop or desk, and the person sits in front of it briefly every day (45 minutes or so, usually in the morning) with eyes open, glancing — not staring — occasionally at the light (to work, the light has to be absorbed through the retinas). Like any treatment, phototherapy should be used under a doctor's supervision.

    Medication (pharmacotherapy). Medications, which might be used in combination with talk therapy and light therapy, may be prescribed for a child or teen with SAD and should be monitored by a doctor. 

    Talk therapy (psychotherapy). Helping to ease the sense of isolation or loneliness, talk therapy focuses on revising the negative thoughts and feelings associated with depression. 

    Resources: 

    https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sad.html

    https://www.parents.com/health/mental/does-your-child-have-seasonal-affective-disorder/

    Substance use is a common coping strategy for mental health issues. Request your FREE Parent Toolkit to prevent and address substance use in your home by emailing us at schliesserlili@rsdmo.org or calling (636) 733-2136. Click here for a list of what's included. 

    All content on this web page, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.