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A Guide to Seasonal Affective Disorder in Children and Teenagers


What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

As the days grow shorter and the amount of sunlight decreases, the risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) increases in people of all ages, including children and teenagers. It is estimated that 6% of the population suffers from SAD.[1]

Theories as to why SAD occurs revolve around the body’s melatonin and serotonin levels. The body naturally responds to the amount of light outside. When it is dark outdoors, the body produces melatonin to promote sleep, which is why the shorter days in the late fall and winter creates increased fatigue and drowsiness for many. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced by the body when exposed to daylight. If serotonin levels are low due to lack of light, depression can occur.

Daylight savings impacts children and teenagers with SAD


SAD symptoms typically subside in spring

Children exhibit varying symptoms similar to that of traditional depression, ranging from mild to severe. SAD is not year-round and symptoms often disappear in the spring when the amount of daylight increases. Although quite rare, some individuals experience SAD in the summer. Generally, however, SAD occurs in the wintertime and begins to affect individuals in the fall.

Typical symptoms associated with SAD include:

  • Mood changes
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Oversleeping and eating
  • Increased carbohydrate cravings
  • Lack of concentration
  • Withdrawn from social activities

Children or teens experiencing any or all of the above symptoms should be evaluated by their health care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Natural light can be therapeutic


Medication and therapy are treatment possibilities for children and teenagers

There are treatment options available for all differing degrees of SAD. Treatment is generally comprised of the following:

  1. Antidepressant medication therapy
  2. Phototherapy and daylight exposure
  3. Counseling and talk therapy

The brain has three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. If any one of these neurotransmitter levels decrease, depression or SAD can occur. Antidepressants help increase and level out these neurotransmitters to provide relief from depression or SAD-related symptoms. Medication therapy should be used in conjunction with other treatment methods. Children and teens taking antidepressants need to be monitored by their physician. Mild to severe side can occur, including suicidal ideation and/or suicide.

Although daylight is reduced in the fall and winter, it is recommended that children and teens suffering from SAD take advantage of the daylight available. Symptoms often diminish with exposure to sunlight. A simple walk in the brisk air can do wonders. Another option is full-spectrum light bulbs. These bulbs are excellent for SAD patients because the light emitted mimics natural daylight. These special light bulbs can be used in regular light fixtures.

If the bulbs do not provide the relief needed, phototherapy or light therapy involving a lightbox can be used. This special box is used by patients looking over the light for approximately 45 minutes each day. Tanning booths should be avoided due to the risk of cancer and premature aging.

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Counseling or talk therapy gives kids the opportunity to discuss their feelings and, in turn, learn more about their illness and possible coping mechanisms.

Children and teens with SAD may feel lonely and withdrawn


Kids suffering from SAD can benefit from parental support

There are several things parents can do to provide aid and encouragement to their child or teen. Parents should first self-educate themselves on SAD to better understand this condition.

Oftentimes sufferers do not understand why they feel the way they do and might come off as being agitated or irritated. Therefore, SAD sufferers require patience from their parents.

It is easy for children and teenagers to seclude themselves, so it is often therapeutic for parents to spend quality time with them.

Parents can give a lending hand with schoolwork to assure its completion and provide proper nutrition instruction.

Since exposure to daylight is important for those suffering from SAD, parents can help by setting an early bedtime routine so that their child or teen can maximize the next day’s sunlight.


The preceding article is for informational purposes only. If you suspect your child or teenager has SAD, you are urged to discuss your concerns and their symptoms with their physician. It is recommended that a proper diagnosis and treatment should made by a licensed health care provider.

Do You Remember?


  1. KidsHealth website. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Accessed April 14, 2016.

A book for children with depression

Supplementary activity book


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Sarah Mitchell (author) on May 20, 2016:

I agree with everything that you have said. Some of the other warning signals that you have mentioned sometimes get overlooked as behavioral issues, yes, as well as attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I think it is important for caregivers to look for any pattern changes and ask themselves, "is this typical behavior for my child?"

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 29, 2016:

SAD can be a tough condition to recognize, especially with teens and young children, with their rapid growth, hormonal changes, and frequent mood shifts. This article helps by noting that it is more prevalent during the winter months. Other warning signals may be the child having difficulty in school, getting along with others, completing homework on time, and being either withdrawn in class or having behavioral issues.

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