With changing seasons and shorter days, some people might experience mood and behavior changes that affect how they feel, think, and handle daily activities. For some, the transition to fall and winter contribute to mood changes, like sadness, hopelessness, lethargy, and other symptoms. Though generally diagnosed in adults, teens can also experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), more commonly known as seasonal depression, causes annual depressive episodes at the same time each year, typically in the winter months. Seasonal depression is spurred by the brain’s response to shorter daylight hours–the reduced sunlight in wintertime can affect serotonin and melatonin levels, which are responsible for regulating energy, mood, and sleep cycles. When the daylight hours grow longer again, SAD typically lifts, and the individual starts to feel better.
Signs of SAD
SAD symptoms range from mild to severe. There are a variety of symptoms, that may or may not manifest in an individual with SAD:
- Sadness or irritability
- Low energy
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Difficulty concentrating
- Social withdrawal
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harm
While more prevalent in adults, some teenagers do suffer from SAD. A teenager experiencing SAD symptoms might experience changes in their mood, negative thinking that is more self-critical, lack of enjoyment in daily activities, social withdrawal, low energy and lethargy, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentration, and changes in their eating habits. Fatigue, challenges in school, and social withdrawal are the top 3 indicators to look for if you think your teen may suffer from SAD.
Navigating your teen's seasonal depression
If your teen is diagnosed with SAD, your primary care provider might recommend one of the following interventions:
- Therapy: talking with a therapist can help your teen relieve and understand the symptoms they are experiencing. A therapist can help your teen develop coping strategies that they can rely on, and can help ease the isolation and loneliness that your teen might be feeling.
- Physical activity and vitamin D: exercise and physical activity can improve your teen’s mood, while also contributing to better sleep. Encourage your child to spend time outdoors–daily walks and outdoor exercise are great options that can help relieve seasonal depression.
- Light therapy: phototherapy involves a lightbox mimicking sunlight–the person sits in front of the light for a short period daily. This method can improve symptoms within weeks, depending on the intensity. It’s important to talk with a doctor before incorporating phototherapy.
- Prescription medication(s): Because SAD causes an imbalance in serotonin, antidepressant medications are often used to treat symptoms. Talk with your doctor if you think your teen would benefit from medicine.
Hazel Health is here to help
Hazel can help you better understand and support your child’s health. Our mental health services and licensed therapists help teens develop coping strategies for their mental health challenges. See if Hazel is available in your school.
If you suspect your teen or someone you know is suffering from immediate distress or engaging in self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741).