Most of us have occasional bouts of “winter blahs.” It could be post-celebration depression after the winter holidays; restlessness from too much time indoors; or plain old longing for more sunshine. Usually, a few days of healthy living and productive activity lifts the mood back to normal.


But about one person in twenty gets as blue as Antarctic glacier ice after the fall equinox and stays that way until the calendar turns back to summer. Doctors call this phenomenon Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of medical depression.

If you have a child who’s been moping around and seems ready to carry that attitude into March, how can you tell whether he or she has SAD or is simply “sad” with small letters?

Is There an Objective Reason for Blue Moods?


The first rule when something seems to be bothering someone is: don’t guess, ask! If your child is upset about something specific, pinpointing the problem is the first step in resolving it, and resolving it is the first step in feeling better. (Note: Unless there’s something you personally forgot or owe an apology for, don’t immediately try to fix everything yourself. Encourage your child to come up with and implement her own solutions, so she’ll develop a lifelong habit of taking the proactive approach.)

Are Boredom, Life Changes, or Stress Possible Factors?

If your child “doesn’t know” why he feels lousy, maybe he really doesn’t know. Instead of arguing or prodding, consider:

Have there been any major changes in his life, daily routine, or physical development lately? Hormones and readjustments have strong effects on the mood.

Has he had too little—or too much—to do recently? Is he adjusting to new responsibilities?

Is he eating healthy and getting enough sleep?

In any of the above situations, extra attention to physical health, plus a few more enjoyable activities or a little more rest time, usually remedies the problem.

How Long Has This Been Going On?

Being depressed for a day or two happens to everyone at times—but if it lasts over a week, you may have a problem. In the case of SAD, you’ll also want to consider: Did the “down period” coincide with the arrival of shorter days? Has it happened in previous winters? Does anyone else in the family have a similar problem?


Are There Any Other Symptoms?

Major red flags include:

Overeating (or not eating)

Losing interest in favorite activities

Repeatedly overreacting to minor annoyances

If You Think Your Child May Have SAD

A possible case of SAD should always be evaluated by a doctor. Professional treatment includes counseling, stress-management coaching, exposure to more light, and sometimes medication.

If your child is diagnosed with SAD, remember to:

Never tell him to “snap out of it,” even if you find it seriously annoying. People with genuine depression can’t control their moods, and they suffer enough without the added burden of disapproval and guilt.

Follow the doctor’s instructions regarding treatment.

Encourage (but don’t nag) your child to stay active and eat healthy.

Stay positive yourself (although not so gushy you make your child uncomfortable or jealous). Talk regularly about the blessings of winter and the fun you’ll have come spring.