Children Affected by the Seasonal Affective Disorder Too

If you’re a Midwesterner, you know all about winter. While starting out exciting and beautiful, it can get “old” as the snowy season continues into March and April. As the winter begins to drag, sometimes, so do we. Along with post-holiday lull in excitement, the lack of sunlight, cold temps, grey skies can cause some people to get a little “stir crazy” or the “winter blues”. For 10-20 % of people, this can be a more significant “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD.  

This is not just an adult issue; children and adolescents can also suffer these symptoms. They may experience feelings of irritability, fatigue, or even low self-worth and hopelessness. Children with true seasonal depression struggle to concentrate on their schoolwork. Their grades may drop, worsening feelings of low self-esteem. Symptoms that last more than two weeks are cause for concern.  

Both “winter blues” and SAD can be helped. Studies have shown that daily physical exercise, exposure fresh air, sunlight (when it’s available) can all really help. It’s also a good idea to eat healthily. Fresh fruits and veggies are a little more expensive and harder to come by this time of year, but even frozen versions are chocked with vitamins. Taking a separate vitamin D supplement of 400-600 units a day for children is also recommended. Getting a good night’s sleep each night can also help recharge the batteries.  

Finding ways to enjoy the winter as a family, indoors and out, can make the time more enjoyable for everyone. Older kids might enjoy sledding or winter sports like skiing, ice skating or snowboarding and snow shoeing. Get out there and build a family snow man, or bundle up and go for a walk if there is no snow to be had. Schedule family game nights and family movie nights at home, things that people can look forward to (other than just the end of winter).

By Dr. Ann Jones, pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians-Pediatrics in Appleton