Adam Boman, licensed clinical social worker, Canyon Medical Group
Winter in Cache Valley can be a wonderful time of year. So many activities to keep us busy, such as skiing or snowboarding, ice skating, hiking, and family movie or board game nights snuggled warm at home. Additionally, many families celebrate holidays and cultural events during winter, which can offer additional benefits. Unfortunately, winter in Cache Valley also offers unique challenges: cold weather, shorter daylight hours, cloudy overcast days, and inversion. These things can result in less and less time being active, causing disruptions in our usual routines which can cause some to experience symptoms of depression. Depression that occurs only during a specific time of year is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that typically presents during the fall and winter months and causes significant problems for the individuals who experience it. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5% of adults in the United States experience SAD. Symptoms of SAD include feeling down or depressed, lack of enjoyment in activities previously enjoyed, problems concentrating, increased fatigue, changes in sleep or appetite, and thoughts of suicide. If the symptoms of depression are present most of the day, more days than not, for more than a few weeks, or start to negatively impact important aspects of a person’s life, it is recommended to seek professional support.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
Parents and caregivers can help children struggling with SAD by being involved and aware of their child. It is important that parents and caregivers have interactions and healthy communication with their child each day. Try to find time to be with your child. Be creative! For some parents and caregivers, before school is best. For others, at dinnertime works better. For some, before bedtime. Others use a combination of each. No matter what time of day, find time to be with your child often to talk and be together.
Listen to what your child says and pay attention to how your child responds to you. Try to spend at least five minutes together a couple times each day so you can truly learn about how your child is doing.
• Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation (i.e., “How are you feeling today?”).
• Reflect on what your child says to show you are listening.
• Try to help your child identify his or her emotions (i.e., “It seems like you were upset”).
Encourage your child to continue to participate in activities even though it is winter or work together as a team to find new things to do together. Help your child think of creative and unique ways to be involved in activities that are enjoyed during winter and other times of the year.
• Do things together that require physical activity. People are less active in winter and physical activity can help to improve a person’s mood.
• Find activities at home that encourage creativity and problem-solving. Games and arts and crafts are great ways to do this.
• Help your child stay connected with friends, family, groups, or teams. Social connection and doing things with others can help.
If you notice that your child is struggling with symptoms of SAD or another mental health or medical need, offer support. Listen to your child and validate how your child may be feeling. Let your child know that you are proud of your him or her for telling you what is going on. Let your child know that it is brave to talk to trusted adults who can help. Let your child know that these symptoms can be treated and that they will not have to feel like this forever. Offer hope, support, and encouragement.
• Normalize and validate what your child is feeling.
• Praise your child for sharing his or her feelings.
• Offer hope and let your child know you will be there to help.
If you notice that your child seems to be struggling and trying to assist your child does not seem to alleviate the symptoms, please contact a mental health or medical professional for further assistance. You and your child can then meet with a provider who can discuss treatment options for SAD or other mental health or medical concerns in more detail.