As the temperatures drop and the days get shorter this time of year, it is not uncommon to feel the “winter blues”. But for many people, these negative feelings and behaviors are signs of something more serious – seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs at certain times of the year when there is less sun – which is usually correlated with the change of seasons, depending on where you live,” explained Neha Chaudhary , a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and a counselor at the Brightline Behavioral Health Platform.
While people tend to associate seasonal affective disorder with adults, some parents have observed it in children. But can children experience trouble? And if so, what does it look like? Below, experts share their ideas.
Can children have SAD?
“It’s possible for children to have SAD, just as it’s possible for them to suffer from anxiety, depression and other concerns,” said Margaret Cochran, psychotherapist and registered clinical social worker based in San Jose, in California. “It can develop in young children, but it most often shows up, like many other disorders, around the time puberty begins.”
Sue Varma, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, noted that she observed seasonal depression more in older children 10 to 12 years old, adolescents, and young adults. She also said it was seen more often in girls than boys.
“In general, women are twice as likely to have depression and two to four times as likely to have seasonal depression,” she says.
What signs should parents look for?
“The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression but appear at specific times of the year (late fall to early spring), which is how it differs from traditional depression,” he said. explained Jennifer L. Hartstein, a child, adolescent and family psychologist.
She noted that signs of SAD may include mood swings such as increased sadness or irritability, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, increased sensitivity or self-criticism, decreased energy, changes in sleeping and / or eating habits, problems concentration, lack of motivation, loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, and isolation or disconnection from friends and others.
Some children may feel heavy in their bodies, unwilling to get out of bed, or avoiding getting out. They may be clingier or need more comfort.
Additionally, our COVID-19 world’s isolation, with its increased screen time, distance learning, and decreased physical activity, can also worsen the winter blues and make it more difficult to separate from the SAD of more general pandemic struggles. Pay attention to any big or sudden changes in your child and if their timing is seasonal.
“In terms of how SAD presents itself, there is a predictable cluster of symptoms. However, keep in mind that not all children will have all of the symptoms on this list and what you should look for are changes in your daughter or son’s usual behavior, ”Cochran explained.
What should you do if you think your child has SAD?
While you may be tempted to just wait for the seasons to change again, dealing with mental health issues in children is important, especially if your child’s symptoms are impacting their academic performance, self-esteem. , friendships, or ability to function every day.
“Parents who suspect that their child has SAD should seek help from a professional, such as a pediatrician, therapist or even school counselor, for starters, ”Chaudhary recommended.
A full medical and psychological assessment can help identify the problem, whether it is bullying, drug addiction, SAD, or other medical issues like vitamin deficiency, vision problems, thyroid issues, or other illnesses which may present as depression.
“I cannot stress enough that while pandemic stress, seasonal blues and mere adolescence may be the problem, children may be limited in identifying and attributing the cause. I would hate for a parent to miss some other underlying cause, ”Varma noted.
As we all navigate the stress of the continuing pandemic, it is important that parents also take a moment to take care of themselves.
“While also thinking of your children and their impact on them, parents should also think of the impact on themselves,” noted British psychotherapist Noel McDermott. “As they say in the talk about safety on planes before take off, be sure to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.”
How is SAD treated in children?
There are different ways to treat SAD in children, and the options may vary depending on the severity or severity of the case.
“A first line of defense is to increase exposure to light,” Hartstein said. “Get outside during the day, even if you have to bundle up, and get more vitamin D and sun exposure. For mild cases, this change alone can have lasting benefits. “
More severe symptoms may require light therapy or light therapy. Many doctors recommend using replacement daylight bulbs and placing special SAD lamps, also known as light therapy boxes, in the space where your child is doing virtual learning or homework after school.
“Another thing that helps is healthy exercise, like running in the local park,” McDermott noted. “It might be more difficult with your teenagers, but it is possible to organize family activities outside.”
Beyond healthy habits and special lights, there are psychological interventions that can help young people overcome seasonal depression.
“Psychotherapy is often recommended, as is medication management,” Hartstein said. “Part of SAD is a decrease in serotonin levels, which can be treated pharmacologically. Talk therapy can help young people overcome their feelings and help them turn negative thoughts into more useful ones. “