Seasonal affective disorder in kids and how can you help?

The summer sun has quickly disappeared, and the colder mornings have arrived. Unfortunately, when the weather changes, for some people their mood does too. That’s because sunshine provides us with vitamin D levels that we can sometimes struggle to find in our foods.  It can enhance our vitality and energy levels, which is key to becoming more resilient to physical illnesses according to research.

Here, we discuss what seasonal affective disorder is and how children can be affected by it.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

The definition of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is “depression associated with late autumn and winter and thought to be caused by lack of light”. It, in some way, is a dark cloud above our heads that can be caused by dark clouds!  It’s said to occur when your body’s internal clock and your brain and body’s chemicals all change.

It’s anticipated by the NHS that one in 15 in the UK are affected by the disorder between September and April. December, January and February are the worst months for what people call the ‘winter blues’.  The most common age group to suffer from SAD is those between 18 and 30 years old, with females the most likely to be affected, but it can begin at any age and to any gender.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

Sometimes SAD is difficult to diagnose, so the symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Being lethargic
  • Depression
  • Sleep issues – normally oversleeping and struggling to stay awake
  • Social issues, including withdrawal from social situations
  • Overeating – particularly carbohydrates and sweet foods
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increased anxiety
  • Weakened immune system
  • Lack of interest in activities which were previously enjoyable
  • A persistent low mood

SAD in children

In kids, their school work may slip if they suffer from seasonal affective disorder. They may also seem more irritable and less likely to want to play. Remember, your child may not be able to realise they have this condition or tell you how they are feeling.

If you think that your child may have developed SAD, you should make an appointment with your doctor. This way, they will be able to thoroughly check your child over and rule out any other possible reasons for the symptoms they are experiencing. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that the condition should receive the same treatment as other types of depression. Omega 7 is a supplement to consider as this is said to alleviate anxiety and depression.

You must realise that this is a brain chemistry issue, not just a behavioural problem. It’s important you are supportive and non-judgmental to aid recovery. Taking a little more time with them so they feel loved as well as being patient with them is also important to the treatment, as is eating healthy and maintaining a regular sleep pattern. By looking after their lifestyle habits, you will cut their stress levels which will help to ease the pressure faced from SAD.

Light therapy is used as a treatment for some adults, but this hasn’t been definitively proven to work and its side effects include headaches, so it’s not always recommended for children. Instead, try to ensure that your children are outside in natural sunlight when possible. If your child is put on antidepressants, make sure you are vigilant for any changes in behaviour and keep in regular contact with your doctor.

You should also consider vitamin D3 supplements. Research in the area of vitamin D and depression is rapidly growing, with some studies highlighting a potential link between the two. Vitamin D is vital for general health including immunity, muscle function and bone density.

Paediatrician, Dr Cindy Gellner, advises parents and guardians to: “take their symptoms seriously. If your child has been diagnosed with SAD, talk about their feelings as they let you, and remind them that even though things may seem impossible right now, things will be better in the spring.”

Obviously, we must take care of our kids at all times, but it’s important to stay extras vigilant in the winter months and take note of any possible temperament changes. Remember, as is the case for many issues, with SAD in kids, if in doubt check it out.


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