The winter months can be a real drag. It’s cold. The sun rises late and sets early, so it’s dark all the time. Depending on where you live, you might have to battle snow and ice. It’s just a cold gray slog until spring arrives.
All the while, teens still have to keep up with their schoolwork, housework, and other extracurricular commitments. For some teenagers, this isn’t a huge task. They don’t see much difference between the seasons other than their wardrobe. However, winter depression can be very real for many teenagers.
You can try numerous tactics at home to help teens with winter depression. If your teen son struggles with major winter depression, though, he may need professional help. Some teenagers benefit from attending a residential treatment center where they receive daily support from licensed therapists. No matter the situation, teens need to learn how to appropriately manage their winter depression while awaiting spring’s arrival.
Symptoms of winter depression
Some teens who have the winter blues also struggle with depression for the rest of the year. Their symptoms are just more severe in the winter. Other teens specifically have depression symptoms during the winter months but seem to be fine during the rest of the seasons.
If the depressive symptoms or “winter blues” only occur during the winter months, your teen could have seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder. Having the winter blues is especially common in northern climates, where the sun disappears for most of the winter. Being thrust into darkness for months at a time can take a toll on our mental health.
Some common symptoms of winter depression in teens include:
Experiencing depressive symptoms primarily during the winter months
Withdrawing from activities that they used to enjoy
Change in sleeping habits – sleeping more or struggling with insomnia
Change in eating habits – eating more or less
Spending more time alone rather than seeing people they like
Feeling anxious or restless
Feeling agitated all the time
Getting easily upset
Having suicidal thoughts
Helping teens manage winter depression
One of the major causes of winter depression is a lack of consistent sunlight. When the sun rises late and sets early, the days feel short. Our bodies naturally adjust to daylight hours, making us want to be awake during the day and asleep at night. When nighttime drags on and on, it throws off our internal clocks.
Another result of minimal sunlight is decreased exposure to vitamin D. Our bodies use vitamin D to help fight off illness and boost serotonin. Serotonin is an extremely important hormone that increases feelings of happiness and stability. When our serotonin levels are low, we can feel depressed.
Though you can’t make the sun stay out longer, you can buy products that mimic sunlight. Many people who experience seasonal affective disorder have found relief through sunlamps. Sunlamps are a specific type of lamp that replicates sunlight and let you feel like the sun is rising and setting. Many modern sunlamps are programmable and can connect to a smartphone for easy use.
While sunlamps are great for getting your internal clock back on track, they won’t help you with vitamin D. Thankfully, there are other ways to get vitamin D, such as foods that are rich in vitamin D or supplements.
These foods are a good source of vitamin D:
Fatty fish (Ex: salmon, tuna, sardines, etc.)
Any foods enriched with vitamin D (i.e., cereal, milk, orange juice, etc.)
Getting help for the winter blues
If your teenager is having a tough time with the winter blues, you may need additional help. Winter depression can be serious and can have lasting consequences if left untreated. Talk to your child’s doctor about the symptoms he is experiencing and ask about treatment options.
Teenagers who experience a significant drop in serotonin during the winter months might benefit from taking prescription anti-depressants. However, you should never start medication without a written prescription from your doctor.
Some teens with seasonal affective disorder see improvement from attending therapy sessions. They can talk through their symptoms and thought patterns with trained therapists and make sense of their feelings.
Just as there’s no single cause for the winter blues, there’s no single cure-all treatment. Having the support of professional doctors and counselors can help you find the right solution for your son.
For more information about treatment options, contact us at 866-639-2856.