Dark, dreary days got you down? Kids can get Seasonal Affective Disorder, too

SEATTLE -- Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, affects adults in the later winter months, but it can also affect children earlier in the season, sometimes masked by their slacking off as winter break nears and holidays approach.

Falling back with the time change this week means afternoon soccer practice for Seattle kids is now under stadium lights instead of sunlight.

“It’s kind of hard to play,” said 11-year-old Claire Schmitt.

She says the seasonal changes don’t affect her much, other than being much colder on the field, and she plans to stay active all winter long.

“Indoor soccer, I’m starting skiing this year,” said Claire.

The Schmitt family moved to Seattle from sunny Georgia a few years ago. Claire's mother, Mary Catherine Schmitt, says the gray Seattle winters have been an adjustment. She keeps a calendar full of family activities to keep depression out of the season.

“Holidays help, travelling helps. Seeing family and keeping kids enrolled in some kind of activity; soccer, then moving to basketball and moving to softball and keeping them in sports to keep them active and wear them out, too,” said Mary.

Waiting for practice to end, Samantha Ng says parents can set a positive example as the weather changes.

“Enjoy the weather with them. If you’re not inclined to go out, they won’t be either. Go out with them, have fun and enjoy it together,” said Ng.

At Pacific Medical Center, family practice physician Ari Gilmore says children are more resilient than adults and don’t tend to experience strong mood swings with seasonal shifts.

He says parents should look for symptoms like low energy, oversleeping, irritability and poor school performance that are temporary.

“It really has to have that component where the onset is after daylight hours and it has to resolve on its own the following season as the days become longer. You have to watch it for a while and it’s often the second or third time that it happens, you realize where all of a sudden there’s this component that goes along with the seasons,” said Gilmore.

He says staying active and being social are easy ways for parents and children to enjoy time together and ease the effects of the gloomy days ahead. “Being social is big. Scheduling play dates, having dinner parties, you have to keep it going,” said Mary Catherine Schmitt.

Gilmore says light therapy is just as affective for children as it is for adults, but that vitamin D, although vital, won’t necessarily ease or alleviate symptoms of SAD. Gilmore recommends children under 13 get 400 units of vitamin D. Anyone over the age of 13 should get 1,000 units of vitamin D, he said.