School Psychology

Winter Blues

March 12, 2018

Seasonal Affective Disorder

We all get sad from time to time and in the winter this can get worse. For around 6% of people it’s more than the “winter blues”, there’s actually a diagnosable condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). What makes this different from a diagnosis of depression is that the depression is linked with a change in season. For most people with SAD, it starts in the fall and progresses throughout the winter, but some people actually experience SAD during spring and summer.

If you struggle with feelings of sadness and depression or if you notice one of your students has signs, try to pay attention to the time of year. Is there a pattern with the time of year? Has this happened for at least 2 years in a row? Was your student, Sally, happy and full of life but in mid-winter you noticed she’s sad, pessimistic, and irritable?

While SAD is more common in adults and typically starts in the early 20s, children and teens can have SAD. Females are more likely than males to experience SAD. People who have depression or have a family history of depression are also at risk for SAD.

Signs of SAD

  • Feeling depressed most of the day
  • Loss of interest in preferred activities
  • Low energy
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Easily agitated
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling guilty
  • Suicidal thoughts.

If a child has been experiencing these symptoms for 2 weeks or their severity is so intense the child is struggling to function in their daily life, it’s time to reach out to the doctor or a mental health professional.

It can be relieving to know the seasonal changes are directly related to your depression and you don’t have to be miserable during the winter. You can take control and seek professional help where light therapy, medicine, and counseling can improve your mood and well-being.

So since everyone feels sad from time to time, when should you see a doctor?

If you start to feel depressed for several days in a row and struggle to do activities that were once easy for you, it’s probably time to talk to your doctor. Some clear warning signs to see a doctor are if your sleep and appetite have drastically changed, if you’re using any substances to try to improve your mood on a regular basis, or if you feel hopeless or suicidal.

Please don’t try to tough it out or wait.

Untreated SAD can lead to serious problems including:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Work/school difficulties
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
  • Other mental health conditions such as anxiety.

If you think you’re experiencing more than the typical “winter blues” remember you are not alone and help is out there!

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