Seasonal affective disorder in kids and how can you help

So, the colder mornings are among us. The summer sun is packing up, removing its hat for another year and we’re awaiting the arrival of the dreaded frost. Unfortunately, as the seasons change, so too can some people’s moods. Sunshine gives us a dose of vitamin D that we can often struggle to receive from food alone, which helps healthy cell and bone growth. It also increases our vitality and energy levels, which research shows can help us be more resilient to physical illnesses.

Here, vitamin D3 suppliers Pharma Nord Ltd, look at seasonal affective disorder and how we can help our kids who are affected by it.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

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

The NHS anticipates that approximately one in 15 UK residents will be affected by SAD between September and April, with December, January and February being 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?

If you are unsure whether you, or indeed someone close to you, is suffering from SAD, the most common symptoms to be aware of include:

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

SAD in children

For kids with seasonal affective disorder, you may notice that their school work is slipping, they 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 suspect your child has SAD, the first port of call is to contact the doctor and make an appointment. 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.

It’s crucial to realise that this isn’t a behavioural problem but is in fact a brain chemistry issue. 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.

While adults are sometimes treated using light therapy in severe cases, there’s no detailed evidence that this works and with side effects such as headaches, 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.

For further support, consider vitamin D 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.

The advice from paediatrician, Dr Cindy Gellner, to parents and guardians is: “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.”

It’s important to make sure we take extra care of our kids in the winter months and be aware of any changes in their temperament. Remember, as is the case for many issues, with SAD in kids, if in doubt check it out.



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