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JoeMurphy Sep 1, 2020

Helping Teens with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Most of us enjoy getting out of the house and enjoy the bright sunshine, especially in spring and summer when the daylight lasts longer. Those of us who love the beach and play sports during the day love the long daylight hours unless it’s terribly humid and hot. Many people don’t talk about getting depressed about seasonal changes, nor do we even hear much about it. However, seasonal changes especially when it comes to lack of daylight, do affect some people. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder and it can vary from mild to severe in some people. There are several symptoms of SAD that can mimic major depression. The American Psychiatric Association list these symptoms on its website under SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

  • Feeling of sadness or depressed mood
  • Marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
  • Change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
  • Increase in restless activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide


Treating SAD in Teens and Young Adults

The onset of SAD can start any time from age 18 to 30. However, it is treatable with most therapeutic techniques. Many therapists use light therapy, antidepressant medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of these depending on the severity of the disorder and how well it works with the client. We all know that the same therapy doesn’t work for every client. One client may do really well and manage the disorder with just light therapy and another client may need cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and light therapy to treat the disorder.

There are other minor techniques that can help manage SAD, especially during the fall and winter when daylight hours get shorter. Those effected could add brighter lights to each of the rooms in their house or workplace, if possible. They could take breaks at home and sit outside during the daylight hours for about 30 minutes each day while having a cold drink like ice water or tea. They could take the dog for a walk, or go walk with a relative or friend around the neighborhood or a park for 30 minutes each day. They could open up the blinds or curtains in the house during daylight hours especially during the fall and winter when the disorder takes more of a toll on their emotions and sleep schedule. They could decorate their room with bright colors, or even pictures, or other artwork of various places in the daylight.

Even the smallest techniques can help make a difference in treating symptoms of SAD, such as uploading a bright background like a tropical destination on your desktop or screensaver for your phone. There are several ways one can treat and manage Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it only has a chance of helping if the person uses the techniques daily to help manage the disorder.

Thoughts About SAD During COVID

How does one manage SAD during this COVID pandemic? One can still manage the disorder at home using some of the techniques mentioned earlier. As long as other family members living in the house understand and support you, it should work fine. In regards to going out, one can still wear a mask, stay six feet from others, walk around the neighborhood, play certain sports, and even volunteer outside during the daylight hours to help manage the symptoms of SAD.

When fall and winter gets close, just think of the techniques mentioned earlier and apply them to help you manage SAD on a daily basis so you can have a happier life every season. If you know anyone who experience symptoms of SAD, or is diagnosed with it, encourage them to get help and get outside more during the daylight.
Joe Murphy, Jr is a multilingual certified school counselor (English, Spanish, and some French) working as an elementary counselor this year in Fayette County, Tennessee. He has three years of high school counseling experience and at least thirteen years of teaching experience. His counseling interest areas include academic, career, multicultural, mental health, substance abuse, sports counseling, family, migrant youth, and LGBTQ youth issues.



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