By Dr. Gerald Deskin, Ph.D.
When winter is here, we look forward to more rainy days and less sun. Our daylight has a different quality that affects brain quality and produces Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
We know that SAD affects adolescents. How young a child may be affected is unclear, but the symptoms are not. We have seen SAD in children as young as six and the condition may affect even younger children.
The effects of SAD are well known.
- Depression or feelings of listlessness and fatigue
- Increase in appetite
- Constant feelings of sadness, that appears permanent
- Feelings of negativity, anger and irritability, often without being aware of its cause
- Problems with focusing and concentrating. Feelings of apathy or slowing down
- In adolescents, a deterioration in school performance
- Adolescents may withdraw from family and friends
- Changes in sleep patterns. Usually increased sleeping, but sometimes less
- There appears to be a family origin. The problems seem to run in families.
Sometimes the condition is initially diagnosed as depression. However, the treatment is different. The treatment for SAD involves several approaches. Exposure to a bank of daylight bulbs often helps adolescents. In addition, because of the disruptive nature of this disease, the adolescent may need help by a psychologist or counselor who can deal with the side effects of the depression. Because of the hereditary nature of this problem, parents may be aware of SAD because one or both parents suffer from the same problem. If so, it may make the diagnoses easier for the treating mental health professional. Be sure to tell the professional you work with that SAD may be the underlying cause for what may initially appear as a mild depression. The combination of both exposure to daylight bulbs and counseling usually results in a fairly fast resolution of the problem. Sometimes SAD also occurs with a major depression. In this case both problems need to be dealt with. This process usually takes longer and is more involved than dealing with SAD alone.
Parents are often alerted to the problem when both a drop in schoolwork and a tendency to stay alone and not be with friends occurs. These two factors alone should alert parents that the child is in need of assistance.
Suggestions for parents:
If you notice a change in your child's behavior such as a withdrawal from friends, irritability, less school involvement and a disturbed sleep pattern in the winter season, consider SAD as one possibility.
Parents need to consult a mental health professional to help resolve this problem who has knowledge of SAD and the use of light therapy.