When the weather gets colder and winter flurries force your family indoors, it’s easy to understand why your children might not seem as spirited as usual. This change in mood could actually be a case of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Each year, more than 1 million children and adolescents suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as the winter blues, a subtype of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Sufferers of SAD usually experience symptoms in the winter and fall; however, symptoms can occur in the spring and summer too.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Become sad because of the shortening days
  • Oversleeping
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Withdrawal from social activity
  • Experience feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness
  • Struggle with school work

It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of children and adolescents develop mild SAD symptoms as winter begins and the symptoms can worsen as winter progresses.

There is no known cause of SAD, however some researchers found it may be influenced by a disruption in a person’s circadian rhythm, or the body’s natural cycle of waking and sleeping. In the winter, there is less sunlight, which plays a role in the brain’s production of melatonin and serotonin. So, SAD could be caused by the body’s over production of melatonin, which encourages sleep, and under production of serotonin, which fights depression.

Diagnosing SAD involves medical exams to rule out other possible symptom causes, like hypothyroidism or hypoglycemia, but treating moderate SAD can be simple.

Treating SAD

  • Spend time outside every day
  • Open window shades in the home
  • Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet that is low in simple carbohydrates and high in vegetables, fruit and whole grains
  • Use a “dawn simulator” to gradually turn light on in the bedroom to trick your body into thinking the sunrise is earlier


Adelaide Robb Adelaide Robb, MD, is the Chief of the Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, specializing in depression and mood disorders, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. She is an internationally known clinical researcher and has participated in and led multiple therapeutic trials for children with a variety of behavioral and psychiatric conditions.

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