Dear Bundoo: Why is my daughter depressed this winter?
This week, one family that’s full of snow may also be full of sorrow. Why is this little girl depressed? See what our doctor says in this week’s Dear Bundoo.
I live just outside Boston, and I’m worried that my 3-year-old daughter has seasonal affective disorder. She’s usually a really happy, bubbly girl, but since we’ve been getting all this snow and she’s stuck inside all the time, she seems to be depressed all the time. Is it possible it’s the weather affecting her mood? Is there anything I can do to perk her back up?
Dear Snowed In,
You are describing the qualities of something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which occurs in children and adults alike, often in the winter months. SAD is a type of clinical depression that typically occurs in the winter months in northern latitudes. In fact, the farther you live from the equator, the higher your likelihood of SAD. While SAD is most widely understood in adults, the medical community does acknowledge that it can exist in children. Long hours indoors coupled with short days can lead to symptoms of fatigue, lack of focus, sadness, irritability, and changes in food cravings. People with SAD often crave simple carbohydrates, like comfort foods, which can then lead to further symptoms of feeling run down and tired. Because your child is so young, I would recommend getting her evaluated by your pediatrician who can help you determine if this is truly SAD.
In the meantime, you can try to beat those winter blues by doing a few things. First, make sure that your little one is getting at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. A trip outside is very important, but if you are limited by the snow, try an indoor play gym or an hour or two running around the mall each day to help her calm a bored body. Set up an obstacle course in your house or apartment or just have a good old-fashioned dance party to start the day. Children need to be in motion! Second, get her outside and into the light! We are not sure what causes SAD, but the theory is that darkness stimulates the production of melatonin while inhibiting the production of serotonin, the happy hormone. Boosting her exposure to the light will help stimulate serotonin.
—Answered by Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, Bundoo Pediatrician
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