Sue Scheff: Seasonal Affective Disorder by Connect with Kids

teendepression.jpg“I definitely tend to isolate myself in my bedroom more. I’m always wanting to sleep and don’t want to be bothered.”

– Chauntae, 16

With winter’s grey skies, shorter days and often freezing temperatures, many kids are stuck indoors during the season. How does that affect their mood? Does your child seem depressed during these cold days? If so, it could be a treatable disorder.

Chauntae and Jasmine, both typical teenage girls, say their mood changes in the winter.

“You know, just not in the mood to be talking to anybody. And people kind of tell me I get a little bit mood- swingy at times, or I just might get mad about something really small,” says Jasmine, 16.

“I definitely tend to isolate myself in my bedroom more.  I’m always wanting to sleep and don’t want to be bothered,” says Chauntae, 16.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 10 to 20 percent of people have some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. 

“It can just appear out of the blue. It really is a matter of what’s going on in the brain with some of the neuro-chemicals,” says Dr. Patrice Harris, M.D., psychiatrist.

Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, weight gain and overall lack of interest in normal activities. Experts suspect the problem is a lack of sunlight. Treatments can include doctor-supervised light therapy with a device similar to a tanning bed or a high-powered desk lamp, antidepressants, and/or a regimen of outdoor physical activity.

“Actually, there’s some early research that shows that talk therapy does affect the chemicals in the brain,” says Harris.

Harris adds that, as with all types of depression, parents should take it seriously.

“If a teen says … ‘I don’t know what is going on… I’m just feeling bad and I don’t want to do anything and I don’t have any energy, don’t have any motivation,’ that’s when parents should say, ‘Well, why don’t we go talk to someone about this who maybe knows a little bit more than we do,’” says Harris.

Experts say with rising occurrences of depression and suicide rates among teens, parents should be aware that any form of depression in their child is serious and may require treatment.

Tips for Parents

  • Someone with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will exhibit several particular changes from the way he or she normally feels and acts. These changes will occur in a predictable seasonal pattern. The symptoms of SAD are similar to the symptoms of depression, and a person with SAD may notice several or all of these symptoms: changes in mood, lack of enjoyment of normal activities, low energy, changes in sleep patterns, changes in eating habits, difficulty concentrating, and/or less time socializing. (Nemours Foundation)
  • If your mood, energy level and/or motivation decline around November but bounce back to normal in April, you may have SAD. (National Institutes of Health, NIH)
  • SAD is thought to be related to “a chemical imbalance in the brain brought about by lack of sunlight due to winter’s shorter days and typically overcast skies,” says Dr. Angelos Halaris, chief of the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Loyola University Health System.
  • SAD, which is characterized by depression, exhaustion and lack of interest in people and regular activities, can interfere with a person’s outlook on life and ability to function properly. (Dr. Halaris)
  • Because the symptoms of SAD are triggered by lack of exposure to light, and they tend to go away on their own when available light increases, treatment for SAD often involves increased exposure to light during winter months. (Nemours Foundation)
  • If at all possible, get outside during the winter, even if it is overcast. Expose your eyes to natural light for one hour each day. At home, open the drapes and blinds to let in natural light (Dr. Halaris)

References

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Dr. Angelos Halaris, chief of the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Loyola University Health System
  • Nemours Foundation

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