What is SAD and How Might It Affect My Teen?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD, is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. Symptoms begin to show around the same time every year, usually in the fall, and continue until the end of winter; however, some people still have symptoms during the spring and summer months. The seasonal aspect of SAD distinguishes it from other forms of depression. If a person feels depressed year-round it is more likely they have another form of depression, rather than SAD.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms vary depending on the severity of your disorder or depression, but some signs to look out for include:

  • Tiredness
  • Weight gain/loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Low energy
  • Oversleeping
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
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Image arisu san

What Causes SAD?

The change from summer to fall and winter—and ultimately a decrease in sunlight and nice weather—can cause onset-SAD. This is because the body’s internal clock has changed and the brain produces less serotonin, which is a major factor in maintaining happiness.

Serotonin is a “feel-good” chemical that is naturally produced in the brain. When your brain produces less serotonin, moods fluctuate and can cause depression. It is believed that natural sunlight increases production of serotonin, though this hasn’t been deemed 100% true yet.

Gender, age and family history are all contributing factors to SAD. Females are 70% more likely to be depressed than males and teenagers and people with a family history of depression are also more at risk. Signs of symptoms to look for in teens include: lack of concentration in class or extracurricular activities, oversleeping, withdrawal from friends, and changes in mood.

How Can I Help My Teen’s Mood?

SAD can be treated with counseling, medications and therapy. If left untreated, SAD can cause people to have suicidal thoughts, thoughts of self-harm, substance abuse, problems at school and work, and social withdrawal. A healthy lifestyle, including exercise and healthy diet, can help prevent and maintain changes in mood.

Many people will experience the “winter blues” but will not become depressed. Light therapy and exposure to natural light are recommended for people with more mild symptoms.

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