Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that changes with the seasons. Although more commonly seen in adults, teens and children can develop seasonal affective disorder.
As mentioned above, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression and can be hard to pinpoint in children. As a parent, you may think your child is going through a phase or natural growing process or even typical teenage moodiness. If you notice the change beginning in the fall as days grow shorter, your child may be suffering from SAD.
The most common symptoms shared in children with seasonal affective disorder are feeling down, anxious and irritable. More common symptoms include the desire to sleep more, increased fatigue including falling asleep during the day and eating more, especially high carbohydrate foods. This may lead to weight gain. Some children may also get headaches as a symptom of seasonal affective disorder.
You might notice your child doesn’t seem to perform as well in school or lose interest in extra-curricular activities. He or she may not want to be as social as they had been, and prefer to spend more time alone. Your child may pay less attention to activities they are engaged in and not even remember what they had been doing. They may no longer focus on activities they once enjoyed and start being less organized.
According to American Family Physician, from 1.7% to 5.5% of children between the ages of 9 and 19 suffer from seasonal affective disorder. These are only the numbers found in pilot studies, as SAD has not been prominently studied in children, so the actual rates may be higher.
The first thing is to talk with your child but know that he or she may not even understand the changes in their mood, interests or behavior. It is common for teens to blame outside influences, such as peers and acceptance as a reason they are feeling down. This could just be a rationalization to come to terms with why your child is feeling down.
Although the most common and effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder is home use of light therapy, you should have your child examined by a physician to rule out other causes for your child’s symptoms. Any treatment should be given under a doctor’s supervision when treating your child for SAD.
Children can develop SAD. If you notice changes in your child’s mood or behavior that are affecting home, school or your child’s enjoyment, have your child evaluated by a qualified medical professional. Be sure to follow the doctor’s recommendations for whatever treatment option is chosen. Although children can develop seasonal affective disorder, treatment is very effective in alleviating symptoms.
THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT MEANT TO DIAGNOSE OR TREAT ANY CONDITION AND IS NOT MEANT TO REPLACE THE ADVICE OF A PHYSICIAN. IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR CHILD HAS SAD, SEE YOUR CHILD’S DOCTOR FOR PROPER DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT.
S. Atezaz Saeed, M.D. & Timothy J. Bruce, Ph.D.; Seasonal Affective Disorders; American Family Physician