What Parents Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Do you know if your teen suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder? (photo Credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

There is something a little sad about the end of summer for all of us, but for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD), the changing seasons can cause episodes of deep depression that can impact relationships and quality of life.  For parents, it is important to understand what this disorder is, how to recognize it, and what to do to get your child the help they need to make it manageable.

Although this condition is more prevalent in people over 20, it can also affect children and teens.  Because of the seasonal nature of the disorder, it can be difficult to diagnose.  It may be written off as normal moodiness or even misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder.  While it looks like depression when it is affecting the person, the seasonal cycle it follows can make it hard to definitively diagnose.  It can also make it difficult to see it for what it is, a mental illness, rather than as bad behavior or acting out.  The most common form is called winter depression and it occurs during the transition from fall to winter.  However, the same symptoms can occur in the spring causing summer depression.  Some people with the condition experience a repeating pattern of one or the other each year.  While it is possible to experience both summer and winter depression, it is not necessary to have both to be diagnosed with SAD.

Causes

There is no clear indication of what causes SAD although many believe access to sunlight may be a key factor.  Increases or decreases in sunlight exposure may cause chemical imbalances or hormonal shifts in our bodies that most of us are unaware of.  Those people with SAD may be more sensitive or susceptible to these imbalances and shifts.   While still a hypothesis, this idea is supported by the fact that someone who lives in a northern state with less access to sunlight during the winter months is significantly more likely to experience SAD as someone living in a southern state with less sunlight fluctuation.  Additionally, people affected by SAD experience less symptoms when they spend winter in a place with less fluctuation.

Risk Factors

Although anyone can have this disorder, there are some risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the condition.  These risk factors include family history, gender, location, and overall mental health.   People who have close relatives with SAD are more likely to have the condition than those who do not have family members with it.  Women are more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder than men and the farther you live from the equator, the more likely you are to develop it.  People with other mental health conditions, specifically depression and bipolar disorder, may have worsening symptoms during these times of year.

Signs and Symptoms

SAD looks just like depression but it comes and goes on a regular cycle that follows the shifting seasons.  Symptoms include fatigue, moodiness, loss of enjoyment in regular activities, lack of energy, shifts in sleeping habits or patterns, difficulty concentrating, and changes in eating habits.

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