Most of us have occasional bouts of “winter blahs.” It could be post-celebration depression after the winter holidays; restlessness from too much time indoors; or plain old longing for more sunshine. Usually, a few days of healthy living and productive activity lifts the mood back to normal.
But about one person in twenty gets as blue as Antarctic glacier ice after the fall equinox and stays that way until the calendar turns back to summer. Doctors call this phenomenon Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of medical depression.
If you have a child who’s been moping around and seems ready to carry that attitude into March, how can you tell whether he or she has SAD or is simply “sad” with small letters?
The first rule when something seems to be bothering someone is: don’t guess, ask! If your child is upset about something specific, pinpointing the problem is the first step in resolving it, and resolving it is the first step in feeling better. (Note: Unless there’s something you personally forgot or owe an apology for, don’t immediately try to fix everything yourself. Encourage your child to come up with and implement her own solutions, so she’ll develop a lifelong habit of taking the proactive approach.)
If your child “doesn’t know” why he feels lousy, maybe he really doesn’t know. Instead of arguing or prodding, consider:
In any of the above situations, extra attention to physical health, plus a few more enjoyable activities or a little more rest time, usually remedies the problem.
Being depressed for a day or two happens to everyone at times—but if it lasts over a week, you may have a problem. In the case of SAD, you’ll also want to consider: Did the “down period” coincide with the arrival of shorter days? Has it happened in previous winters? Does anyone else in the family have a similar problem?
Major red flags include:
A possible case of SAD should always be evaluated by a doctor. Professional treatment includes counseling, stress-management coaching, exposure to more light, and sometimes medication.
If your child is diagnosed with SAD, remember to: