By Rachna Muralidhar
Change is the only constant and that applies to almost everything that the planet holds. Any change brings about the demand to adapt which can be stressful for both the mind and the body till balance is attained.
Seasonal changes throughout the year also have a similar pattern. The adaptation process is definitely stressful for both the body and the mind. Despite the existence of a certain ‘normal’, there are individuals whose whole being experiences higher amounts of stress, therefore slowing down the adaptation process. This is a potent cause for many dysfunctions. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is one of the most common problems that has been recorded in that regard.
SAD, as the acronym suggests, is a mood disorder that occurs only in the time period of a certain season. It is not an independent disorder and can largely be looked at as depression in mostly the winter season. Although episodes can occur in other seasons like the summer and monsoon, it is very less likely. It is most common in topographies that receive very little or no sunlight during the winters. It is likely to affect children if not less or more, as much as it does with adults.
The symptoms are the same as that of depression, but it appears only in one season and disappears at the end of it. Symptoms children may display are as follows:
1. Mood disturbances: Child can display extreme irritability or crying spells that are unusual. Worthlessness and sensitivity to criticism can be amplified. Being upset and sad for a large part of the day.
2. Lack of enjoyment: Playing or an activity of interest might not be something the child would want to engage in.
3. Complains of tiredness: Tiredness that is disproportionate to the level of activity.
4. Difficulty concentrating: This reflects in a significant drop in grades and possible complaints from the school when it is not usually so.
5. Disturbed sleep and appetite: Can manifest in forms of not being able to wake up and go to school and a tendency to overeat.
6. Withdrawn from people: Child shows no interest in socialising with other kids and also interactions with parents becoming unusually minimal.
If these symptoms are seen for over two weeks, and is recurring in the same period (season) for two consecutive years, it definitely indicates the need for diagnosis of the child.
Generally, winter is also the season for flu epidemic. Flu in itself can cause bodily symptoms, in turn, affecting the mental state. Symptoms of SAD can present in such a situation as well but does not account for SAD unless symptoms are continuing for many days even after the infection has cleared off. It might be difficult for children to express the way they feel, but being more cognisant of their interactions and behaviours usually go a long way.
Once recognised, steps for recovery can be taken:
1. First of all, ensure that the child gets enough outdoor time with appropriate clothing. Outdoor activities like playing can be a form of exercise, which is a very powerful antithesis to low mood and sadness in general.
2. Ensuring a balanced diet and adequate sleep routine.
3. If at all there is a need to be indoors for a long period, to engage the child in indoor games or activities that are stimulating.
4. Last but not at all the least, visiting a mental health professional to get the child evaluated to see where he/she stands. It is always best to get feedback from both a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist/therapist to work through things. It may require the aid of both medicines and therapy for bringing the hormones and neurotransmitters to optimal functioning and developing skills to deal with it effectively.
(The author is psychologist & outreach associate, Mpower – The Centre, Bengaluru)