Seasonal affective disorder in children

Child out in the grass

The summer was great, but the dark nights are now here to stay. Unfortunately, when the weather changes, for some people their mood does too. That’s because sunshine provides us with vitamin D levels that we can sometimes struggle to find in our foods. It can enhance our vitality and energy levels, which is key to becoming more resilient to physical illnesses according to research.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (known as SAD) is a low mood, usually experienced in late autumn and winter, and attributed to a lack of light. It, in some ways, is a dark cloud above our heads that can be caused by dark clouds! It’s said to occur when your body’s internal clock and your brain and body’s chemicals all change.

It’s reported by the NHS that, in the UK, one in 15 of us are affected by SAD. December, January and February are 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?

Although not always clear cut – below are some SAD symptoms:

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

What about SAD and children?

What should you look out for in young people? School work may be affected, if a child is experiencing SAD. They may also 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.

Be aware that SAD is all about brain chemistry (not just a behavioural problem); so 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.

Of course, you should always visit a doctor if you’re concerned about your child’s health. A GP 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.

Light therapy is said to help with SAD, though it can also cause headaches, and its benefit hasn’t been proven. 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.

Health supplements could be beneficial. Research into vitamin D3 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.

Paediatrician, Dr Cindy Gellner, states: “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.”

Looking after our children is an all-year round task! But do stay extras vigilant in the winter months and take note of any possible temperament changes. Remember, as is the case for many issues, with SAD in kids, if in doubt check it out.


*Collaborative feature post*

Leyla Preston (595 Posts)

Leyla Preston is the owner and Editor of Motherhood Diaries global magazine for parents. Leyla is a busy mother of two even busier boys; Aron, 8, and Aidan, 7. When Leyla isn’t feeding, managing a gazillion tasks or cleaning the infinite mess at home, she is busy working on this magazine and a new cooking channel coming very soon – no rest for the wicked! You can follow Leyla on Twitter (@M_Diaries) or join the busy Motherhood Diaries Facebook group where all mums get together and share stories and solutions with one another: