ABH Maryland

Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder in Kids and New Ways to Help Them


Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder in Kids and New Ways to Help Them

  • Children Mental Health

As autumn arrives and the days begin to grow shorter, some children experience changes in their moods. They start to feel sad, depressed, and lethargic as the daylight fades, and these feelings grow deeper and more persistent as they spend more of their waking hours in the darkness of the winter months.

When spring arrives, they feel relief and tend to return to their natural mood and energy level.

This may be a condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Read on if you feel a child you know may have SAD.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to Mayo Clinic, SAD is “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons and only occurs at certain times of the year.”

SAD is unusual in that one risk factor is a person’s geographic location! The farther away from the equator one lives, the more drastic SAD symptoms may be. 

SAD occurs during the fall and winter. While the exact mechanism of SAD is not fully understood, psychologists understand that these factors may affect a person’s mood:

  • Lower serotonin levels in the brain. The lack of sunlight can reduce the amount of serotonin, a chemical that raises a person’s feeling of well-being.
  • Higher melatonin levels in the brain. At the same time, a lack of sunlight increases melatonin levels, which makes a person feel tired and sluggish. 
  • Changes in the body’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms make up the “master clock” that activates your child’s sense of alertness and sleepiness. Changes in this rhythm can alter hormones, digestion, and sleep.
  • Low vitamin D levels. The body needs sunlight to produce vitamin D, and lack of this vitamin can cause bone and muscle aches. 

Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder

The symptoms children express as a result of SAD will resemble other kinds of depression. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Mood swings: If your child cries easily during the long dark months of winter, becomes irritable or loses hope easily, they may be showing signs of SAD. 
  • Lack of energy: In the winter months, people with SAD may lose energy and get tired easily. Even activities they normally enjoy begin to seem too strenuous. 
  • Negative self-talk: Kids with SAD may express negative views of themselves or notions that they are to blame for something. 
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns: Kids may have difficulty waking up for school in the morning, and they may swap their normal eating habits for snacks or sugary foods. This can affect their health and weight.  
  • Loss of enjoyment: The psychological term anhedonia is the state in which people are unable to feel pleasure, and is a defining condition of depression. People with SAD may stop engaging in activities that normally make them happy, such as seeing friends or engaging in hobbies. 

How You Can Help

We know you want to be there for your children, and you can often feel helpless in a case such as this. But you’re never helpless! Here are some ways to help.

  • Talk to your child. This is so important! Your child needs to know that they can talk to you about whatever is on their mind and can share their feelings without judgment. 
  • Create a structured sleep routine. Young people can get disoriented as their circadian rhythms become unfocused, so enforce steady bedtimes and make sure they take advantage of every hour of sunshine during the day. 
  • Bring in the sunshine! It may be a challenge to access sunlight where you are, but spending as much time in natural light as possible may help regulate your child’s emotions. You could also invest in a lightbox to help the body get more light or switch to lightbulbs that attempt to replicate the sun’s light. 
  • Exercise the anxiety away. Exercise can kick-start your mood and increase energy levels, which combats low serotonin levels. Exercising outdoors, if possible, is even better!

Contact Us

At Advanced Behavioral Health, we understand the toll that dark Maryland winters can take on children with SAD. 

If your child shows these symptoms, schedule a consultation with a member of our team. Our professional therapists are skilled at getting to know children and diagnosing concerns through therapy. 

You can call us at 301-345-1022 or visit our website to learn more. One of our team members will help you find the care you need.

When you think of the well-being of a child, you first think of basic needs: food, water, and shelter. Once these needs are met, however, it’s crucial for a child to have emotional and social wellness as well. In this article, we will explore the impact social wellness has on the overall health of a child and great ways for children to garner social support in their lives.

It comes as no surprise that as human beings, we all need connection with others, no matter what stage of life we are in. In fact, having social support is a social determinant of health (SDOH) that significantly impacts the health of an individual. After spending the last few years in and out of isolation due to the Covid-19 outbreak, social support is more important now than ever before. Having social support means having family members and friends you can talk to and seek advice from when life feels challenging and overwhelming. Knowing you’re not alone in your life journey, especially as a child, creates a sense of belonging and empowerment throughout one’s life.

4 Types of Social Support

Emotional Support. This type of support lets you know that people care about you and have empathy for your experiences. Emotional support often looks like people checking in on you to let you know they’re thinking of you, and that they are there if you need anything. As a parent, make sure your child knows you can be a sounding board for them. If you have family members who can also show up for your children in this way, even better!

Practical Help. This type of support is when people give you something tangible or offer a service to help you out. This could be in the form of money, making food when you are sick, or helping to pack when moving. Having family and friends show up in this way shows your child what it looks like to be present for people you love.

Sharing Points of View. This type of support can often come in the form of affirmations and encouragement. For example, pointing out your child’s strengths to them and reminding them they can do anything they put their mind to. It can also look like sharing another perspective if they are being hard on themselves. For example, if they are angry with themselves after receiving a bad grade on a test, you can help them see it as a learning experience and a way for them to grow.

Sharing Information. This type of support is when someone shares what they’ve learned from their own life experiences. For example, if another parent has a child who struggles with socializing, they can share some tips and tricks they’ve learned to help their child find and create social support.

The Importance of Social Groups and Extended Support

Children who are connected to their family, friends, and people in their community have opportunities to learn how to speak, share, and get along with others. When your child feels connected to people in your neighborhood, it often allows them to feel physically safe which can alleviate stress and worry. Simply riding bikes, going on walks, and saying hello to neighbors with your kids can create this sense of security for them.

In addition to engaging with your neighbors, getting involved in local organizations can also create social support for your child. Signing up for a sports team, musical theater, art class or summer camp are all great ways to help your child meet new friends and learn important social skills that can carry them through their lives.

Tips for Helping Kids Make Community Connections:

Spend time outside in your neighborhood playing on the playground, going to a local farmer’s market, or scheduling a playdate with neighborhood kids.

Show your kids that connection is a two-way street. If your neighbors or friends go out of town, offer to get their mail, or water their plants and take your child with you when you go. This will show your child how you show up for people you care about.

Make sure you make time for socializing with friends as well. Your child looks to you first and foremost for how they should act and live their own life.

Encourage your child to step out of their comfort zone and do something they may be scared to do. As a parent, it’s your job to push them into something social for their own well-being at times.