Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly called SAD) occurs during fall and winter when there are reduced daylight hours. Children suffering from SAD will display a distinct change in behavior correlating with the seasons. During the winter they can become depressed, irritable, lack focus and suffer from fatigue. Sleep patterns and appetites can also be affected. While researchers haven’t completely solved the puzzle of SAD, they suspect it is due to the lack of vitamin D as well as reduced levels of serotonin in the brain.
Symptoms of SAD
It can be difficult to distinguish SAD symptoms from regular mood swings. Children can become depressed, irritable, moody, disinterested and can have difficulty concentrating.
They may suffer from fatigue and lose their appetites.
Sleep patterns will be disrupted and they will have trouble falling asleep and getting up in the morning.
Their academic performance will suffer as they lack motivation, always feel tired and won’t be able to concentrate in class.
Activities that they usually enjoy will no longer interest them. They may not want to go out or exercise.
Students who are suffering from SAD may display some or all of these symptoms in varying degrees of severity.
Treatment and Prevention
As the days begin to shorten and your children start staying indoors more often, focus on prevention to keep their winter blues at bay. Encourage exercise and play and get them outdoors as often as possible. Everyone craves carbohydrates and ‘comfort foods’ over the colder winter months, and while these are fine in moderation, stick to a healthy diet.
Make an effort to include plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains in your family’s diet. Try to include natural sources of vitamin D like fish oils, salmon, cheese, egg yolks, and milk. You can also consider giving your children a vitamin D supplement to make up for missed sunshine. Our bodies use sunlight to create vitamin D (that’s why it’s called the sunshine vitamin!) If you have a warm, sunny spot in your home, get them to roll up their shirt sleeves and soak up the sun.
Light therapy (or phototherapy) is also suggested as a preventative measure. Here just twenty minutes a day under a special light to simulate sunshine can help to beat the winter blues. You can get phototherapy home kits for convenience.
Plan special events so that your children have something to look forward to. This will help to keep a positive attitude.
Bundle up and get outside every day. Whether you are enjoying winter sports, making a snowman or having a snowball fight, being active and getting outside can help to alleviate SAD symptoms.
Like all forms of depressions, symptoms can range from mild to extreme. If you think that your child may be suffering from SAD, speak to your paediatrician or psychologist immediately.