Depression affects kids in a variety of ways. It may be situational or something that is persistent in their life.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is triggered by changing seasons occurring in the winter and sometimes lingering in the spring. The most common type is winter-onset depression.
Individuals may feel moody, have no energy and be unmotivated. While a specific cause is unknown, here are a few factors that may increase a child's risk of SAD:
- Gender: SAD is diagnosed more in women than in men
- Age: Younger individuals have a higher risk of developing SAD
- Melatonin and serotonin levels: Reduced sunlight may lead to a drop in serotonin levels, which may affect mood. The change in season can also disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
There are a few things parents can do to decrease the risk of developing SAD, and help their kids through this challenging time. Here are a few tips:
1. Implement light therapy for your kids throughout the day. Light therapy is administered by a device that contains white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen that blocks ultraviolet rays. You can go online and order a light box. Your child can start with 10 minutes a day and go up to 45 minutes a day.
2. Encourage healthy habits for your kids. Maintain healthy eating habits, which ensures that your kid is getting sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals. Sleep habits and exercise are also important. Get your kids outside at least 20 minutes each day by taking a walk, going to a park, running around in the backyard, etc. This will allow them to access some sunlight every day to raise serotonin levels. Keeping our kids’ bodies active and getting fresh air can also improve moods and help keep feelings of depression at bay.
3. Be supportive and encourage open communication. Having conversations about how things make them feel in more neutral situations — both positively and negatively — can help kids recognize patterns in their moods. Simply knowing they have someone to talk to can help kids battle feelings of depression. Give them a judgement-free zone to be themselves and talk about what’s bothering them.
4. Seek additional assistance from a trained professional. If your child feels sad or unmotivated, has changes in sleep patterns or appetite, or reports hopeless or suicidal thoughts, consult with your physician and reach out to one of the many resources in the community. Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional or call the Boys Town National Hotline for additional information. Remember, you don’t need to tackle this alone.
The more we can do to teach our kids healthy habits and provide structure and support, the more tools they will have to cope with feelings of depression. For more information about parenting a child with depression, call the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 or visit www.boystown.org.
Shelby Byrd is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic, and previous completed her predoctoral internships through the Nebraska Internship Consortium in Professional Psychology at Boys Town. She graduated with a Ph.D. in School Psychology from Louisiana State University in August 2019. Shelby enjoys cooking, hiking and watching football (Geaux Tigers!) when not at work.