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Can Teens Get Seasonal Depression?

teenager sitting in darkened room looking out window on a gray day wondering can teens get seasonal depression

Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is depression that’s related to seasonal changes. Though it is temporary, seasonal depression is still a serious mental health concern. To learn more about SAD and our depression treatment program, call Imagine Nampa today at 888.503.4604.

What Causes Seasonal Depression in Teens?

Daylight hours growing shorter during fall and winter can directly affect the brain, causing depression. Two chemicals in the brain are directly affected by daylight: serotonin and melatonin. Together, these chemicals regulate energy levels, mood, and sleep-wake cycles.

Darkness triggers the natural production of melatonin, which makes a person feel tired and less energetic. The production of serotonin, which is involved in mood and energy, depends on exposure to daylight.

Seasonal depression is a result of the brain’s response to fewer hours of daylight. Higher levels of melatonin cause a loss of energy, and lower levels of serotonin can lead to depression.
Teens are already more likely to spend more time sleeping and more time indoors. Missing out on any available sunlight during the winter months can increase a teen’s risk for SAD.

Signs and Symptoms of SAD

The teenage years are a time of physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. It can sometimes be challenging to discern between the symptoms of a mental health disorder and normal teenage mood fluctuation. However, if your teen’s mood and behavior seem to change with the seasons, they could be suffering from SAD.

Signs and symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feeling fatigued and oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling hopeless and sad
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed
  • Having suicidal thoughts

Symptoms typically start out as mild during the beginning of the season and can get progressively worse as the winter continues. Spring and summer SAD is less common but may also affect some teens.

The symptoms of spring and summer SAD are the “opposite” of fall and winter SAD. They may include insomnia, poor appetite, agitation, increased energy, irritability, and weight loss.

Treatments for Seasonal Depression in Teens

Therapies for SAD typically include lifestyle changes. A mental health treatment program that provides medication and a variety of psychiatric techniques may be recommended if the teen has severe depression or has been diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder in addition to seasonal affective disorder.

Medications can balance the levels of melatonin and serotonin that affect energy and mood, and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help relieve depression symptoms.

Other recommendations for those with SAD include:

  • Get outdoors for at least 20 minutes every day
  • Exercise, especially outdoors
  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid sugar and carbohydrates as much as possible
  • Stick with a sleep routine, even if you don’t feel like it

Teens may fall behind with homework assignments and other responsibilities because of SAD. Providing extra support to help them meet deadlines and keep commitments may also help them avoid experiencing feelings of shame and failure.

If your teen is exhibiting signs of seasonal affective disorder or any other symptoms of depression, take it seriously. Even though SAD is temporary, the symptoms can lead to the development of a substance use disorder, self-harm, or thoughts of suicide.

Find Help for SAD at Imagine Nampa

Imagine Nampa provides comprehensive outpatient and partial hospitalization treatment for teens ages 12 to 17 who are struggling with all types of mental health disorders, including depression.

Our dedicated team of mental health professionals is experienced in treating adolescents and understands the unique needs of younger people. Contact Imagine Nampa today at 888.503.4604 or online for more information about our treatment programs.