SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in Kids

The Winter Blahs often hit hard in the northern half of the country with these shorter and darker days.  Kids are not immune to this phenomenon; in fact, up to 50% of school-aged children have at least one seasonal change in their mood or behavior.  Most of us are familiar with the term SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression that usually begins with the onset of winter and lasts a few months during the year.  Although it’s most common in teens and young adults, SAD can affect younger kids too. According to Pediatrician Dr. Robert W. Mills, “About 4% of all school-aged children are affected to a significant clinical degree, causing problems academically, socially, or within families/friendships.”

Signs of SAD

It is difficult for children to self-diagnose, so signs that parents should look for include “irritability, excessive sleepiness, self-critical behavior, overeating (especially of carbohydrate-rich foods), sadness with lack of pleasure in things they normally enjoy, difficulty concentrating and declining school performance, loss of self-esteem  and increased social isolation,” Dr. Mills informs.  If two or more of these symptoms are present, he advises a complete evaluation by the child’s primary care provider to rule out other conditions that may mimic SAD.

Tips for both treating and preventing SAD.  

Emphasize a healthy, well-balanced diet along with regular exercise and plenty of sleep.  Spend quality time with your child to increase socialization.  Help with homework, as difficulty concentrating and declining school performance are common with SAD. Optimize time spent outside during daylight hours so that the brain can regulate levels of melatonin (too much causes lethargy) and serotonin (too little is associated with depression).  If you can afford to, schedule a vacation somewhere warm during the winter months.  In more severe cases, antidepressant medication may be needed.  Most importantly, stay connected, keep the line of communication open, and be aware of any changes in your child’s behavior.