Seasonal Affective Disorder, Teenagers, & Young Adults: 5 Ways to Manage the Winter Blues
As a parent, have you noticed that around fall or wintertime your teenager or young adult becomes depressed or anxious? Has your teenager talked with you about how they don't like this time of year because they feel sad but come springtime it goes away? How about your young adult?
Around this time of year, we see an uptick in parents seeking teen therapy and young adult counseling. It could be a number of factors. One of the factors that can affect teens and young adults is Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) generally starts in the young adult years however, children and teenagers can experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry puts it at a range of 2%-7% of teenagers or young adults will experience SAD.
According to the Cleavland Clinic, 5% of adults experience more severe types of SAD. And between 10%-20% of adults in America can experience more milder forms of SAD.
There is also a genetic component. Those teenagers and young adults who have a parent who experiences SAD are 29% more likely to develop SAP. In this study, they identified the genes that may be associated with the development of SAD in teenagers, young adults, and adults (5-HTTLPR and the 5-HT(2A)-1438G/A).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) occurs more in the northern and southern regions of the world. These regions of the world experience seasonal shifts in the length of the days. In these parts of the world, wintertime is a time of shorter days and longer nights which results in less direct exposure to sunlight.
When I was in graduate school at Barry University in North Miami, I clearly remember learning about SAD in one of the graduate classes. Because the school was located in North Miami, we had quite a few Carribean Islanders in our classes.
When we started talking about how a percentage of people become depressed during the winter months, they had a difficult time understanding why. They come from a region of the world where exposure to direct sunlight is fairly consistent year-round. Those in the class from the more northern or southern parts of the U.S. have experienced or know people who experience SAD.
Lack of direct exposure to sunlight can trigger expression of genetic factors that can create a cluster of symptoms. These symptoms tend to fade as Spring arrives, the days become longer, and we are exposed to more direct sunlight.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, primary symptoms of SAD can include:
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
Having problems with sleep
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having low energy
Feeling hopeless or worthless
Having difficulty concentrating
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
For those who struggle with SAD during the winter months, symptoms can also include:
Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
What Are the Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are several potential causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). We have already mentioned the genetic factor. Those teenagers or young adults who have a parent who experiences SAD are 29% more likely to experience it themselves.
Other factors include:
Change in our Biological Clock
We all have an internal clock that regulates our sleep, mood/emotions, and the hormones in our body that help with sleep and mood. Sunlight has an effect on our internal, biological clocks.
When there is less sunlight, our biological clocks change, and it can be difficult to keep up with the change for some teenagers and young adults.
Chemicals in our Brain & Vitamin D Deficiency
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in our brain that helps regulate our mood. Our bodies produce vitamin D with the help of sunlight.
With the reduction in sunlight, some who may be more prone to SAD may produce less serotonin. This is why one of the symptoms of SAD is cravings for carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates help increase the production of serotonin in our brains. But carbs also can pack on the pounds which can also have a direct impact on the brain's overall performance.
The Role of Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that the pineal gland in our brain produces. This hormone helps to regulate our sleep.
Normally, as it starts to get dark in the evening time, the brain is triggered to produce melatonin. Melatonin produces the tired feeling that helps us get to sleep at night.
When wintertime hits and it gets darker earlier, some may have an over production of melatonin as a result. This can leave someone feeling sluggish and sleepy during the day.
5 Ways to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder in Teenagers & Young Adults
There are several different approaches in how to treat SAD. One approach may be effective or a combination of approaches.
1. Light Therapy
Light therapy can be helpful to make up for the lack of light during the winter months. For light therapy to be effective, you would need a light box with at least 10,000 lux. Fortunately, these can be easily found online and on Amazon.
For light therapy, a person sits in front of the light box (approximately 24") each day for approximately 30-45 minutes. It is especially helpful to do so first thing in the morning and is a practice a person would do daily until the springtime.
Light boxes are a safe treatment as they filter out harmful UV light. They are around 20 times brighter than your typical indoor lighting.
2. Vitamin D Supplements
With the decrease in direct exposure to sunlight during the winter months, the vitamin D our bodies produce can decrease. Vitamin D helps in the production of serotonin which is a neuro chemical that helps regulate mood.
If your teen or young adult struggles with SAD, it is important that you see a doctor to have their vitamin D levels checked. If your vitamin D levels are low, your doctor can advise you on whether your teenager or young adult should take vitamin D, which kind of vitamin D, and the amount to take.
If you know that your teenager or young adult struggles with SAD, getting ahead of SAD with medication may help. Seeing your pediatrician or a psychiatrist to have them prescribe an antidepressant can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
It usually takes anywhere from 4-6 weeks for an antidepressant medication to take full effect. So, if your teenager or young adult has a history of SAD each year, seeing a doctor or psychiatrist towards the end of summer and before fall starts to start an antidepressant medication can help.
Come springtime it may be that you can stop the antidepressant. Antidepressants are not addictive. When stopping an antidepressant however, it is important to follow your doctor or psychiatrist's recommendations.
4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Talk therapy, particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), has been found helpful in alleviating symptoms of SAD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps identify the negative thoughts that are associated with the darker, winter months and replaces them with more positive thoughts.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy also has a behavioral component to compliment the cognitive element. It's important that teenagers or young adults who experience SAD schedule into their busy schedules activities that they find enjoyable.
These are activities that they can look forward to at the end of the week or upcoming in a couple of weeks. Having something that a teenager or young adult can look forward to, that they are excited about, and want to participate in, can help combat the depressed feelings of SAD.
For those teenagers or young adults who are experiencing depression and/or anxiety during the winter months, neurofeedback is a great option.
Neurofeedback is not talk therapy and can be particularly helpful for teenagers or young adults who do not want to participate in talk therapy. It can also be helpful for those who may have difficulty conveying verbally what they are experiencing internally.
Neurofeedback is brain training. Through a comfortable and non-invasive approach, a neurofeedback therapists will identify the regions of the brain that are over or under performing. Once the neurofeedback therapist has identified these regions of the brain, a training protocol can be developed to help improve the performance of the brain.
We have found neurofeedback to be 90%-95% effective for those who meet criteria for neurofeedback therapy. Neurofeedback can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety including SAD.
For mor information on neurofeedback, please visit our website and the neurofeedback page.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: Wrapping it Up
If you, your teenager, or your young adult discover a pattern of seasonal depression or anxiety, they may struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The first step is to recognize this and be aware. Once you have recognized it, you can be proactive in treating it each year.
The above tips are a few that are used more often in treating SAD. There are other strategies and approaches that can help in addition to the tips above.
If your teen is struggling with depression, panic attacks, social anxiety, general anxiety or other challenges that are impacting their academics and overall life satisfaction, Katy Teen & Family Counseling is here to help.
Katy Teen & Family Counseling: 70+ Years of Combined Experience in Teen Therapy & Young Adult Counseling Katy, TX & Houston
The fall and winter seasons can be tough for some teens and young adults. Feelings of depression, low motivation, change in school performance, anxiety, and other challenges can arise. If you are noticing this pattern settling in during the fall/winter months and going away when springtime hits, it may be Seasonal Affective Disorder.
If your teenager or young adult can learn to manage SAD now, chances are, they will be better equipped to manage it when they are adults.
At our Katy, TX location of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we are ready to help your teen or young adult. If you are ready to start, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Talk with one of our caring therapists
Start the healing today
Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide a variety of therapy approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Some of the teen therapy and young adult counseling we offer are:
Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy
Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)
Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)
Group Therapy for Teens
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling
Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling can be very effective. The secret ingredients to success is each person willing to look at themselves and work to do things differently, together. When a marriage counselor or couples therapist has this to work with, the success rate can be very high.
Sometimes life will throw challenges at us that create situations that put strain on our marriage or relationship. It may be due to:
Choices and actions that have been made by one partner.
Financial downturn in the economy creating financial strain.
Feeling like you're growing apart.
Feeling like you don't have as much in common as you used to.
Whatever the reason may be, marriage counseling and couples therapy can help. Couples therapy and marriage counseling has also been found to work in less time than individual therapy.
If you've worked hard for this relationship and find that there are now barriers in the way of maintaining a healthy relationship, contact us at Katy Teen & Family Counseling.
About the Author
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker - Supervisor (LCSW-S), Board Certified in Neurofeedback, EMDR trained, and a Certified Brain Health Professional through the Amen Clinics. He has provided therapy to teens, young adults, and families since 2003 and is the Owner & Lead Clinician at Katy Teen & Family Counseling and Katy Counseling for Men.
He specializes in leading teams of high performing therapists who also specialize in teen therapy, counseling young adults, and family counseling.
Jason is also a leader in the field of teen, young adult, and family counseling providing expert coaching and technical assistance to teen Residential Treatment Centers across the country.
Jason is also a regular contributor to various magazines and publications lending his expertise to various mental health related topics. You can check these articles out on our "Featured Articles" service page on our website.
He has also been a guest on Fox 26 Houston and on a podcast, "Grow a Group Practice" with Alison Pidgeon.
If you are ready to start teen counseling or young adult therapy call, text, or email us today!
Phone Number: 281-519-6364