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Summer is definitely behind us. Unfortunately, as the seasons change, so can some people’s emotional states. Sunshine gives us a dose of essential nutrients that we often struggle to receive from food alone, which helps healthy cell and bone growth. It also increases our vitality and energy levels, which research shows can help us be more resilient to illness.

We look at seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and how we can help children who are affected by it.

Defining seasonal affective disorder

SAD – also known as seasonal affective disorder – is when a person begins to suffer from low spirits or depression as a result of changing seasons and weather. Most commonly, people suffer from SAD in autumn and winter, which is believed to be due to lack of light. It’s said to occur when your body’s internal clock and your brain and body’s chemicals, all change.

According to NHS research, around 1 in 15 people in the UK will be affected by SAD between the months of September and April. However, December, January and February are said to be the worst months for suffering from the ‘winter blues’. The most common age that people suffer from SAD, is when they are between 18 and 30, with females the most likely to be affected. But, SAD can begin at any age and occur in any gender.

Diagnosing SAD

Here are the most common symptoms of SAD:

  • Lethargy
  • Sleep issues — normally oversleeping and struggling to stay awake
  • Depression
  • Overeating — particularly carbohydrates and sweet foods
  • Social issues, including withdrawal from social situations
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increased anxiety
  • Persistent low mood
  • Weakened immune system
  • Lack of interest in activities

Does SAD affect children?

Children can get SAD too. Typically, if a youngster develops the condition, their school work and performance may drop; they may become more irritable and may have a lower inclination to play and have fun. Remember, your child may not realise they have this condition or be able to tell you how they are feeling.

If you are worried your child may have developed SAD, then it’s best to get in touch with the doctor as soon as possible. A medical professional will be able to check your child and rule out any other possible reasons for the symptoms they are experiencing. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that the condition should receive the same treatment as other types of depression.

SAD is a brain chemistry problem, so it’s essential that you’re supportive and non-judgmental to assist recovery. Taking a little more time with them so they feel loved, as well as being patient with them is also important to the treatment, as is eating a balanced and healthy diet and maintaining a regular sleep pattern. By looking after their lifestyle habits, you will cut their stress levels which will help to ease the pressure faced from SAD.

However, some treatments that are offered to adults may not be applicable to children — such as light therapy, which may or may not work and can cause headaches. Instead, try to ensure that your children are outside in natural sunlight whenever possible. If your child is put on antidepressants, make sure you are vigilant for any changes in behaviour and keep in regular contact with your doctor.

How about vitamin D3? Research of this type of supplement and its effect on depression is rapidly growing, with some studies highlighting a potential link between the two. Vitamin D is vital for general health including immunity, muscle function and bone density.

Paediatrician, Dr Cindy Gellner, states: “Take their symptoms seriously. If your child has been diagnosed with SAD, try and talk about their feelings and remind them that even though things may seem impossible right now, it will get better in the spring.”

Be vigilant of your child’s mood and activity during autumn and winter. Remember with SAD in kids: if in doubt, check it out.

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