Children and Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Deborah Serani, Psy.D., author of Sometimes When I’m Sad

Children and Seasonal Affective DisorderSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a pattern of depressive symptoms that occur and then disappear with the changing of the seasons. SAD is sometimes called “winter depression” or “winter blues.” Seasonal Affective Disorder is the term most recognized to describe sadness, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating during the winter months. However, the true clinical term is Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Onset.

Statistics about Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • SAD affects millions worldwide, primarily occurring in areas of higher latitudes from the equator.
  • SAD affects women and children more than men.
  • Awareness of SAD has existed for more than 150 years, but it was only recognized as a clinical disorder in the early 1980s.
  • SAD can occur in mild, moderate, and severe intensities.

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD occurs because of the reduced levels of sunlight in the fall and winter months. Sunlight helps moderate well-being, so when less of it is available, it derails our biological clock—also known as circadian rhythm—resulting in SAD.

Tips for Children with Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD can occur in children, so here are a few things to check for and put into practice.

1. Get a medical evaluation.

Many illnesses can look like SAD (hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, anemia, etc.), so make sure your child is in good physical health.

2. Get more sun.

Have your little one spend more time in the sun. If being outdoors isn’t possible, sitting in a pool of sunlight indoors will do the trick.

3. Use light therapy.

Consider buying an artificial light, or a dawn-to-dusk alarm clock, so your child’s body can get the light needed for well-being.

4. Use aromatherapy.

Essential oils, such as peppermint, lemon, bergamot, and cinnamon, increase concentration and lift mood. Use a diffuser or reed sticks and set them in various places throughout your home. Invite fresh air with an open window and use nonallergenic linen sprays to scent sheets, clothing, or rooms.

5. Keep a set sleep schedule.

Keeping a healthy sleep schedule for your child will reduce symptoms of SAD. Make it standard practice NOT to sleep in too much, nap too much, or go to bed too early.

6. Eat healthy foods.

Children (and adults) with SAD tend to crave sweets and starches, so be mindful about keeping protein and complex carbs in your child’s diet.

7. Seek psychotherapy.

If using these tips and holistic measures doesn’t ease the SAD symptoms your child experiences, you may need to seek guidance from a mental health professional. Search for a clinician who specializes in mood disorders. In treatment, you and your child will learn how to deal with the symptoms of SAD successfully.

Deborah SeraniDeborah Serani, Psy.D., is an award-winning author and psychologist in practice for 30 years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University, and her writing on the subjects of depression and trauma has been published in academic journals. Dr. Serani is a go-to expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. She is also a TEDx speaker and has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She lives in New York City.

Sometimes When I'm SadDeborah is the author of Sometimes When I’m Sad.

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