Seasonal Affective Disorder, newly named seasonal or winter depression may affect over 10 million Americans yearly. It is an extremely common mood disorder that is a collective battle for family and friends of those suffering.
Blah. Meh. Some good; some bad. Crappy. Tired. Leave me alone I just want to sleep.
If you have heard your teen respond to your question of “how are you feeling today?” with any of these or similar statements lately, then you are one of the many parents whose teens may be struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), now commonly called seasonal or winter depression.
Six in every 100 people struggle with seasonal affective disorder. While there is not a lot of research geared specifically for teens with SAD, these numbers seem to apply to people of all ages. If you are a parent who notices a change in your teen’s emotions and behaviors at the same time each year, this information is for you. There are things you can do to help your teen. However, you can’t do it all alone.
Fighting winter depression requires help that is accessible to both you and your teen. Before we supply the support outlets that can help your teen fight SAD, let’s make sure we understand what it is.
What is Seasonal Winter Depression (or SAD)?
SAD is a mental health mood disorder that is caused by the changing of the seasons, most commonly the change from fall to winter.
The spring, summer and fall seasons offer longer daylight hours, giving us more opportunities to absorb vital nutrients, like Vitamin D, from the sun. Furthermore, lower melatonin and serotonin levels are noticed in those with SAD. When winter rolls around, the days are shorter. This means your teen has just a couple of hours between when school was dismissed and dark to get the benefits of daylight.
This becomes impossible for some teens who have after school activities. They leave for school and return home when it is dark. All this darkness affects their mood, making them more depressed. Once Spring arrives and the days are longer, you will notice a positive change in your teen, back to being happier and more active.
As a good parent, you want to see your teen be happy and active even in the winter season. This is very possible. Below are the resources to help you help your teen accomplish this goal.
1. Help from Medical Professionals
Your child’s family doctor should always be included in your teen’s treatment goals. They are most likely the first place you will go to get feedback on your teen’s depression symptoms.
Doctors can administer questionnaires and help you create proper documentation regarding your teen and winter depression. They can provide you with numerous resources to help you learn more about SAD in teens. They should be the ones who refer your teen to proper mental health professionals and agencies for further assessment of symptoms related to mood changes.
2. Help from Mental Health Professionals
Teen treatment centers are the best place to get help with your teen with seasonal winter depression. It just makes sense to obtain help from specialists who have education and experience on the physical, mental and emotional health of teens.
- Your teen can meet with a counselor to be further tested for SAD.
- If they find your teen does have seasonal depression, they can develop a treatment plan with goals and steps to achieve those goals.
- The treatment plan serves as a guideline on how to overcome the symptoms of depression during the winter.
Your counselor may also want you to meet with a psychiatrist who will explain potential medication treatments that may benefit you during the winter seasons. Both your teen’s doctor and mental health professional can collaborate with the school’s administrative and counseling staff.
3. Help from a School Support Team
Your teen spends most of his or her day at school. It’s important teachers, counselors and other staff do what they can to help your teen succeed during these more difficult times.
School staff need to understand this diagnosis, as well as provide support when needed. Most schools can create a support team for your teen. It may include the:
- Guidance counselor
- Any other staff who has a lot of contact with your teen during the school day
You will also be included in this team, which should meet regularly to discuss your teen’s status. Meeting reports can include feedback from everyone on any noticeable changes with your teen, good or bad. The team will discuss actions that need to be taken to further help your teen. These actions will be assigned to team members. Your actions will be within the home, of course. Communication within the team is key to your teen’s success.
4. Help from You, The Parent
You are the best resource. You are on the front lines with your teen, battling this disorder. Your duties include first, recognizing the symptoms. A teen with seasonal winter depression may have:
- Minor, moderate or severe mood swings, most of which include sadness, irritability, and may even feel unworthy or hopeless at times
- Low energy
- Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Changes in sleep
- Change in academic performance for no apparent reason
- Even a change in eating habits
Finally, implement strategies at home to help your teen. When possible, help your teen get more exposure to light during the daytime. Go for walks with them on the weekends. Pick them up early from school and go to a park. You can also purchase light therapy machines. They are inexpensive and provide the same type of rays delivered by the sun. Your teen can do their homework, or watch tv, using this device.
Medication may be an option if nothing else is working. However, getting them a therapist first is recommended. There are therapists who specialize in working with adolescents. They can guide you and your teen in overcoming SAD.
Talking to your teen about seasonal winter depression, making them feel valued, and letting them know that SAD is common and nothing to be ashamed of will help your teen adjust.
Finally, pre-winter preparation can help seasonal transitions. Start counseling, medications and light therapy in the Fall. With the help of your resources, you can help your teen have a happy winter season.
Paradigm Austin is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.