Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect about 10 million Americans. Traditionally most people feel the effects during winter months, but that’s not always the case — especially right now when COVID is wreaking havoc on people’s mental health. How can you determine if you or your child may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and how do you overcome it?
While SAD is most commonly associated with adults, kids can also fall victim. Dr. Margaret Cochran, psychotherapist and LCSW tells Parentology that teens are not immune.
“It begins to develop more around pubescence for the most part, when we see the beginning of other mental health disorders,” Cochran says. Teens with other mental health issues like anxiety or depression may be more likely to experience SAD, but parents should watch for:
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping more or less)
- Problems at school with focus or concentration
- Withdrawing from friends
- No longer taking part in activities they used to enjoy
While some of these may seem like normal adolescent behavior, Cochran cautions parents to be most aware of their children’s social behavior.
“The real key for adolescents is when they lose interest in their friends and want to socially isolate or they lose interest in activities that were previously important to them,” she says. “For a teenager at that particular time in life peers are everything. So when you see that they’re off from peers, that is very serious.”
Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder
“In terms of causation, basically it’s just a biochemical imbalance prompted by the absence of light,” Cochran explains. Location is key when it comes to SAD, which is why people who are in more northern climates typically experience it in the winter when there is less sunlight in a day. “It’s pretty simple that way. Simple, but devastating because it can make a powerful difference in your quality of life.”
Genetics, geographic location, and the existence of another co-morbid disorder all play a role in SAD. So, if you’re watching your teen for symptoms and notice you may share some of them, it’s possible that you too may be suffering from SAD. Adult symptoms include:
- Feeling depressed most of the time
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Problems with sleep
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having low energy
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Problems with memory
- Beginning to have thoughts about suicide or death
The good news? Light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication have all proven effective in treating SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder and COVID
Dr. Cochran notes that a lot of people may be feeling this way now not because of a seasonal disorder, but because of a global pandemic. While symptoms may feel similar, there are some important distinctions between SAD and the fatigue some people may be experiencing due to the stress of COVID-19.
“I affectionately refer to it as ‘pandemic poop-out.’ People have just had enough.” Cochran says that the symptoms of SAD are a bit more severe and intense. “Mostly with pandemic poop-out you get tired, you may gain some weight or lose some weight. Your energy may feel low, but you don’t have trouble getting out of bed, you don’t feel like dying. You don’t feel like you’re worthless. You feel frustrated; you feel annoyed. Those are more the kind of things you’ll have with the pandemic poop-out versus SAD or clinical depression.”
If you or your teen may be experiencing the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, Cochran suggests talking to a therapist or physician because relief is possible. “Treating it is really important because you can get better.”