How You Can Help Your Teen Through Seasonal Affective Disorder

Shorter, cold days can make anyone get a case of the winter blues. Often the sun feels as if it is gone just as soon as it came up that morning. However, in some cases, the “blues” that accompany this type of weather can take a more extreme turn into depression.

This affliction, called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, can affect anyone. However, it is harder to diagnose in teens simply because it is often blown off to typical “moody” teen behavior. If you suspect your teen is suffering from this debilitating disorder, here are some tips on how to help them through it.

Know the signs. If your teen seems suddenly more irritable, is having trouble sleeping and eating, has trouble concentrating in school or has a sudden dip in energy in the winter months, they may be suffering from this seasonal disorder. Although it tends to affect more teenagers in the northern states, all over the country teens are being diagnosed. The most important thing to do is seek out answers, and not let the problem go unnoticed for too long.

Rule out medical conditions first. If this seems more like a physical problem, be sure to get a doctor to do a full exam to rule out any medical problems that may be contributing. Once they receive a SAD diagnosis, there are some good treatments that may be recommended.

Teen Wilderness Programs. Although it may seem odd to send your child to the outdoors during the colder months, the light exposure may be exactly what they need. Often, SAD is attributed to lack of light due to short days and long nights. This can throw off a teen’s melatonin levels that regulate sleep, and serotonin levels that regulate energy. These troubled teen programs will not only give your teen a breath of fresh air and sunlight that could greatly improve their mood but also offer a welcome distraction from the depressing winter months.

Therapy. Sometimes just having a person or group of people to talk to about the negative feelings that come with the season can help teens through the difficult time. Outpatient services are certainly available, but if the problem becomes more extreme, a therapeutic school for teens should be considered. Being around classmates with similar disorders can help to have regular therapy without disrupting too much school time.

Light therapy. If you are unable to get your teen outdoors for a significant time, or you live in an area where natural light is simply not available, using a special light that simulates the daylight for as little as 45 minutes a day can help to increase serotonin levels and increase mood. A desk lamp or table lamp can be used for this purpose.

Medication. If nothing naturally helps, your doctor may suggest an antidepressant medication or some sort of supplements for your teen to take. This could be something that is only taken seasonally or year round to help with SAD. Just be sure to heed the warnings that your doctor gives about medications, especially if they could increase depression, or interact with something else your teen is taking. 

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