Seasonal Changes and the Impact on Teen Mental Health

Have you noticed that your teen seems to have ups and downs? Or maybe loses concentration in school? Has become less social? More tired? Then about the time you are concerned, all these symptoms seem to go away? However, about the same time next year, you notice these same things occurring?

Doorways Arizona Blog: Seasonal Changes and the Impact on Teen Mental Health

According to Kids Health, as the days get shorter during the winter months, some teens find that they experience heightened fatigue as well as depression. Then as the days start to get longer and spring arrives they find those symptoms dissolve and they once again feel back to their usual selves. This form of depression is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Why does this happen?


When there is a decrease in daylight, the brain responds with chemical changes which, in some people, can trigger depression. According the experts, there is no certainty as to why this happens, but the current focus of research is that sunlight plays a role in the bodies release of certain chemicals like melatonin and serotonin. These are the chemicals that regulate the body’s energy, sleeping and waking cycles as well as mood. When the days are shorter, the body tends to release higher levels of melatonin which causes sleep. Then when the days are longer, the body releases more serotonin. The link is that when a person has low levels of serotonin, they can become depressed. How likely is it that your teen is suffering from SAD?

Who does SAD affect?

Kids Health, states that about 6% of people get SAD. Some regions are more likely to experience than others depending on the climate. Additionally, girls are four times more likely than boys to experience SAD. The symptoms of SAD are similar to depression.


Mental Health America, explains that the symptoms of SAD are the same as with typical depression. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Overeating
  • Changes in mood
  • Problems socially

Some of the problems that teens with SAD might experience are spending less time with friends and not doing as well in school. Which in turn causes a loss of self-esteem and feeling of loneliness. This can be worse if the teen is yet to be diagnosed with SAD.

Diagnoses and Treatment

A diagnosis of SAD is made after doctors and professionals in mental health have done evaluations and other possible health problems are ruled out. A medical health check up can help rule out conditions like mononucleosis or issues with the thyroid. Once these have been ruled out then a metal health professional can make the diagnosis.

Once diagnosed, a treatment program can begin. Some common treatments for SAD are:

  • Increased exposure to light by spending more time outside during daylight hours.
  • Therapy with bright lights known as phototherapy. This helps to decrease amount of melatonin the body produces. This typically has an 85% effective rate. With this treatment, patients can expect to spend up to 4 hour a day in this lighting which is ten times more intense than normal lighting.
  • Talk therapy can also be used to help the patient learn about SAD and what they can do to help minimize it or prevent it in the future.
  • If light therapy is not successful, then an antidepressant drug may be prescribed which would help regulate serotonin in the brain.


If your teen has been diagnosed with SAD, there are some preventive measures that you can take in the future. These would include starting light therapy earlier in the season, try and get outside more, exercise, managing stress, and visiting places with more sun.

If you find that your teen is suffering from the symptoms of SAD visit a health professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment program.




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