How to Help Your Teen Manage Depression in the Winter

If the short days and weather changes are zapping your teen’s energy and making them feel a bit blue this winter, these may be signs of a seasonal mood disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or S.A.D.) is a type of depression precipitated by the change of season, usually occurring in winter, and it doesn’t just happen in adults. So, why might your teen be experiencing S.A.D.? Experts aren’t entirely sure, but many believe that the change of season affects circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms control how our bodies function when we’re awake and asleep, and changes can make us feel extra energized at some points and super drowsy at others. Other theories contend that the seasonal changes disrupt hormones, like melatonin and serotonin, that control our sleep and mood.

Whatever the cause, according to a report by Dr. Steven Targum and Dr. Norman Rosenthal, six percent of the US population is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, and another 14 percent suffer from seasonal mood changes. As parents, it is important to note that young people, especially those living furthest from the equator, are most likely to experience S.A.D. While teens with a diagnosis or family history of depression or bipolar disorder are particularly susceptible.

As such, we’ve compiled a few treatment options to help your teen manage depression in the winter:

  1. Sit by a sunlight lamp. Sunlight lamps produce light which imitates the sun’s rays and can provide a lovely antidote to winter’s blues. Encourage your teen to sit beside their sunlight lamp for half an hour each day. The light will energize circadian rhythms and subdue the natural release of melatonin.

  2. Use alarm clocks that wake with light instead of sound. Find an alarm clock that will wake your teen up with a gradually increasing light, instead of an abrupt beep or a blast of loud music. This will simulate rising with dawn, which, with Daylight Savings and early morning school schedules, your teen might normally miss.

  3. Essential oils can have a calming effect. Aromatherapy can influence the part of your teen’s brain that controls mood as well as their internal clock that sends them alerts about sleepiness and hunger. Adding oil to their nighttime routine, a few drops in the bath or through a diffuser in their room could help them relax and encourage a restful night’s sleep. Try lavender, bergamot, or ylang-ylang.

  4. Practice a regular exercise routine. As is the case for other types of depression, exercise can help your teen manage their depression in the winter, too. Outdoor exercise is a wonderful way to alleviate the symptoms of S.A.D. However, with inclement winter weather, this isn’t always possible. Encourage your teen to engage in the next best thing — exercising near a window. Running on a treadmill with a view of the outdoors is a great exercise routine to implement in the winter. Your teen could also try a yoga practice, indoor swimming, or an intramural sports team.

  5. Talk to a professional. If your teen is experiencing symptoms of depression, whether seasonal or not, it is always best to get help from a professional. Screening questions can ascertain an official diagnosis as well as determine whether your teen is experiencing S.A.D. or another form of depression.

If your teen is suffering from the symptoms of depression this winter, contact our team at Doorways for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Seasonal Changes and the Impact on Teen Mental Health

Have you noticed that your teen seems to have ups and downs? Or maybe loses concentration in school? Has become less social? More tired? Then about the time you are concerned, all these symptoms seem to go away? However, about the same time next year, you notice these same things occurring?

Doorways Arizona Blog: Seasonal Changes and the Impact on Teen Mental Health

According to Kids Health, as the days get shorter during the winter months, some teens find that they experience heightened fatigue as well as depression. Then as the days start to get longer and spring arrives they find those symptoms dissolve and they once again feel back to their usual selves. This form of depression is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Why does this happen?


When there is a decrease in daylight, the brain responds with chemical changes which, in some people, can trigger depression. According the experts, there is no certainty as to why this happens, but the current focus of research is that sunlight plays a role in the bodies release of certain chemicals like melatonin and serotonin. These are the chemicals that regulate the body’s energy, sleeping and waking cycles as well as mood. When the days are shorter, the body tends to release higher levels of melatonin which causes sleep. Then when the days are longer, the body releases more serotonin. The link is that when a person has low levels of serotonin, they can become depressed. How likely is it that your teen is suffering from SAD?

Who does SAD affect?

Kids Health, states that about 6% of people get SAD. Some regions are more likely to experience than others depending on the climate. Additionally, girls are four times more likely than boys to experience SAD. The symptoms of SAD are similar to depression.


Mental Health America, explains that the symptoms of SAD are the same as with typical depression. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Overeating
  • Changes in mood
  • Problems socially

Some of the problems that teens with SAD might experience are spending less time with friends and not doing as well in school. Which in turn causes a loss of self-esteem and feeling of loneliness. This can be worse if the teen is yet to be diagnosed with SAD.

Diagnoses and Treatment

A diagnosis of SAD is made after doctors and professionals in mental health have done evaluations and other possible health problems are ruled out. A medical health check up can help rule out conditions like mononucleosis or issues with the thyroid. Once these have been ruled out then a metal health professional can make the diagnosis.

Once diagnosed, a treatment program can begin. Some common treatments for SAD are:

  • Increased exposure to light by spending more time outside during daylight hours.
  • Therapy with bright lights known as phototherapy. This helps to decrease amount of melatonin the body produces. This typically has an 85% effective rate. With this treatment, patients can expect to spend up to 4 hour a day in this lighting which is ten times more intense than normal lighting.
  • Talk therapy can also be used to help the patient learn about SAD and what they can do to help minimize it or prevent it in the future.
  • If light therapy is not successful, then an antidepressant drug may be prescribed which would help regulate serotonin in the brain.


If your teen has been diagnosed with SAD, there are some preventive measures that you can take in the future. These would include starting light therapy earlier in the season, try and get outside more, exercise, managing stress, and visiting places with more sun.

If you find that your teen is suffering from the symptoms of SAD visit a health professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment program.



8 Natural Remedies for Teen Depression

Teens go through a lot of changes and have a lot of pressures put on them from different groups. It is not uncommon to have low periods or feelings of depression during this time. According to Mental Health America, if you are experiencing a loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy, irritability, tiredness, and prolonged sadness you can’t break out of, you may be experiencing depression. Fortunately, there are small, natural changes you can make in your daily habits that can make a big difference and help alleviate the symptoms.

Mother comforts her troubled teenage daughter

Take Care of Your Body

1. Exercising is a great positive activity to keep your mind and body occupied. It also releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals, into your brain and will affect you immediately. In addition, exercising boosts self confidence, especially if your depression is related to body issues.

2. Making sure you are eating right and getting the right nutrients into your body is also essential to feeling well emotionally. Eating well will help you feel better both physically and emotionally.

3. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 ¼ hours of sleep each night for teens and adolescents. A chronic lack of sleep can make it difficult to get through each day, difficult to concentrate, and difficult to stay motivated.


Seasonal Affective Disorder

4. Make sure you are getting enough sunlight. Some people are more sensitive to light than others and get seasonal affective disorder, which means a lack of sunlight makes them depressed. This is most common in the winter months when daylight is scarce. It is especially important to get sunlight in the morning, because bright light in the morning helps keep your circadian rhythms in line with daylight hours. If it is too difficult to get true sunlight with your busy schedule, try using a “happy lamp” when you are home in the evenings, which is a light that mimics the effects of sunlight on the brain.


Take supplements

5. Getting the right nutrition is essential to maintaining mental and emotional health. Taking a multivitamin ensures your body is getting the nutrients it needs to function healthily. B vitamins are specifically linked to alleviating depression symptoms, especially folic acid and vitamin B6. A vitamin D deficiency could be part of the problem. Related to seasonal affective disorder, not getting enough sunlight could result in a lack of vitamin d and depression. Taking a D vitamin daily could remedy this problem.


Find Healthy Outlets

6. Talk to a trusted adult friend. Feeling heard and understood is a human necessity. Talking an adult you trust and know will understand will help you feel less isolated and alone. Your friend may also have some good advice about what you are going through, or have been through something similar themselves.

7. Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings will help you make sense of what you are going through and can also be a great outlet to work through the thoughts and emotions you are not comfortable sharing with others. Through your writing, you may also start to notice patterns and realize what you are doing differently on days you feel better versus what you are doing on days you tend to feel down.

8. Try taking a break from social media. Social media can cause a negative cycle of depression. People, especially teens, need authentic human contact and companionship. Social media not only provides a pseudo social environment that does not meet these needs, but it can cause teens to compare their social lives to the lives their peers present that may or may not be accurate.


The important thing to remember if you are having symptoms of depression is that you are not alone, and there are resources available to help you. If you are experiencing serious depression that inhibits your daily living, it is important to get help from a counselor who specializes in working with teens. Everyone needs help sometimes, and working with a counselor could be the jump start you need to get back on the right track.


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Seasonal Affective Disorder in Teens

It isn’t uncommon for people of all ages to get a little down as fall changes to winter, the days get shorter, and the temperatures drop.  In most places around the country, the long, fun, sunny days of summer are gone and the bleak, cold days of winter loom ahead for months.  But for some people, the transition from season to season can cause a type of depression that is much more serious than being bummed out that summer is over.  This condition is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  It is a type of depression and it affects more people, of all ages, than you might think.   Current estimates indicate that about 6% of people, including adults, teens, and children, have Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For parents of teenagers, it can be enough of a challenge to figure out what is natural teenage moodiness and what is a mental health concern.   When the source of the moody behavior is Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can be even more challenging because the condition is rare in children and teens.  The average age for onset of the illness is 20 and more females than males are affected.

The main thing that differentiates Seasonal Affective Disorder from depression is the seasonal pattern.  A teenager with this condition will only experience symptoms for the same few months every year.  The most common form of the disorder is winter depression which affects people as the seasons shift from fall to winter.  There is also a form of the disorder called summer depression that begins in the late spring and runs through the summer.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The cause of SAD is unclear but lack of access to sunlight is suspected to play a part in the disorder.  When the amount of sunlight decreases or increases, it may affect the way our body and brain produces chemicals.  People with SAD may be more sensitive to these chemical and hormonal shifts.   These theories are supported by research that shows a person inNew Hampshireis seven times more likely to have SAD than a person inFlorida.  Anecdotal evidence that people with SAD who spend the winter months in a place with more access to sunlight do not experience symptoms.

Who is at Risk for Developing SAD?

While anyone can get this disorder, there are some factors that increase the risk of developing it including:

  • Family history – If you have a close relative with SAD you may be more likely to develop it.
  • Gender – More women have been diagnosed with the disorder than men.
  • Location – People who live far from the equator, either north or south, are more likely to have SAD.
  • Mental Health – Those people with depression or bipolar disorder may find that their symptoms are worse depending on the season.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of SAD are the same as those for depression but are only experienced during a specific season.  These symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities, socializing, and pastimes
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Problems with concentration
  • Changes in eating habits that includes craving high sugar foods

 How is it Treated?

There are several ways to treat SAD in teenagers.  The first type of treatment involves increasing the person’s exposure to full spectrum lights during the months when they experience symptoms.  These types of light bulbs mimic daylight and can relieve symptoms.  If simple exposure to more light isn’t sufficient to alleviate symptoms, light therapy may be used.  This approach uses special lights as well but concentrates the light in a light box or light panel.  The person with SAD sits in front of the lights for a specific amount of time each day until the seasons change again.  Psychotherapy and medication may also be used to treat teens with SAD.