Identifying seasonal depression and how to help your family

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988 mental health lifeline graphic for an article about having mental health conversations with kids

As we enter fall and winter, many families are excited to participate in holiday activities and traditions. But for some, the transition into colder months can bring on mixed emotions and a time of anxiety and depression, making it difficult for many to enjoy this time of year. Experiencing seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can affect anyone, even our kids and teens. This type of response is when someone becomes depressed only during a specific season of the year, typically in the fall or winter, or feelings of depression increase. Identifying if you or a loved one is experiencing SAD is so crucial to be able to ask for help or comfort those around you.

Signs and Symptoms

As with other mood disorders, it is essential to be aware of when you or your children are experiencing seasonal depression. A person with SAD may showcase any or all of these:

Mood changes

Those with SAD may experience emotions that are sad, depressed or irritable. SAD can make people feel hopeless, discouraged or worthless. If your child feels this way, they may cry, get upset more easily or spend more time away from the family.

Negative thinking

A person can become more self-critical or sensitive to criticism. They may complain, blame, find fault or see problems more often than usual.

Lack of enjoyment

People with SAD may lose interest in things they usually like to do. They may lose interest in friends and stop participating in social activities.

Low energy

People may feel tired, low on energy or lack the motivation to do things. To them, everything can seem like it takes too much effort.

Changes in sleep

A person may sleep much more than usual. They may find it especially hard to get up and ready for school or work early in the morning.

Changes in eating

Common cravings may begin for comfort and sugary foods, along with the tendency to overeat. Because of this change in eating, SAD can result in weight gain during winter.

Trouble concentrating

Like any depression, SAD can make it hard to focus. This can affect schoolwork and grades.

How to Help

If you feel your child or teen is experiencing seasonal depression and want to try combatting it at home, here are a few ways to help:

Sunlight Exposure or Light Therapy

Spending more time outside during daylight hours is enough for many kids and teens to relieve seasonal depression. Exercising outdoors or taking a daily walk are ways to do this. Full-spectrum (daylight) bulbs that fit in regular lamps can help bring more light into the winter months and might help with mild symptoms. More troublesome symptoms may be treated with a stronger light that simulates daylight. A special lightbox or panel is placed on a tabletop or desk. The person sits in front of it briefly every day (45 minutes or so, usually in the morning) with eyes open, glancing — not staring — occasionally at the light. Symptoms tend to improve within a few days or weeks. Even after they feel better, people who use a light therapy box for SAD continue to use it until enough sunlight is available outdoors. Like any medical treatment, light therapy should be used only after talking about it with a doctor.

Talk Therapy

Talking with a therapist helps relieve the negative thoughts and feelings of depression. It can ease the isolation or loneliness kids, and teens with depression often feel. It can help them understand their condition and learn how to prevent future seasonal depression.


Doctors may prescribe medication for some kids and teens with SAD. Antidepressant drugs help balance serotonin and other neurotransmitters that affect mood and energy.

Help your child understand

Learn about the disorder and provide simple explanations. Remember, staying focused might be challenging, so it’s unlikely your child will want to read or study much about SAD — if so, just recap the main points.

Be their biggest supporter

Encourage your child to get plenty of exercises and to spend time outdoors. Take a daily walk or visit a local community center if it is too cold in your area.

Find quality time

Spend extra time with your child — nothing special, just something low-key that doesn’t require much energy. Your company and care are essential and provide personal contact and a sense of connection.

Be patient

Don’t expect symptoms to ease right away. Remember that low motivation, low energy and low mood are a part of SAD.

Establish a sleep routine

Encourage your child to stick to a regular bedtime daily to get the mental health benefits of daytime light.

Remember that if you ever need additional assistance or resources, you can always visit the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) website to find resources like the Family Field Guide, Own Your Power OK and the 988 Mental Health Lifeline. If you or a family member is experiencing a mental health crisis and need immediate help, call or text 988 anytime.

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Categories: Features, Health