8 Ways Therapy Can Help Teens Beat Seasonal Depression
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8 Ways Therapy Can Help Teens Beat Seasonal Depression

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Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can affect teens in profound ways, causing them to experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and impacting their energy levels and daily activities. SAD can manifest in different patterns, including summer-pattern SAD, which can occur in the spring and summer months. However, it is more prevalent during the fall and winter when daylight hours are shorter. 

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder 

SAD can be challenging to diagnose in teenagers, as symptoms of SAD can overlap with typical adolescent behavior and mood changes. Teenagers may also be less likely to seek help for mental health issues, which can contribute to underdiagnosis and undertreatment of SAD in this age group. It’s important to know what to look for. Symptoms can vary from teen to teen, but can include:

  • Feelings of sadness almost all day, every day
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Low energy
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Sleeping problems
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sluggishness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Extra sensitivity to rejection
  • Craving foods high in carbohydrates
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety

In severe cases of SAD, teens may experience thoughts of self-harm, such as cutting or other forms of self-injury. They may also have thoughts of suicide or engage in suicidal behaviors.

Potential contributing factors of SAD in people of all ages, including teens

People of all ages can be at risk of developing SAD. While there is no clear cause of SAD, it could be due to one or more of the following:

  • Being a young person or femaleSAD affects an estimated 6% of the U.S. population, with young people and women being at the highest risk for the condition. 
  • Family history — Having a family history of SAD or other forms of depression may lead to an increased risk of developing the condition.
  • Having clinical depression or bipolar depression — SAD is a type of depression that is triggered by seasonal changes. If you have SAD, it could make your depression symptoms worse.  
  • Living distance from the equator — SAD can be more common in regions farther away from the equator. This could be due to variations in daylight in each season. Changes in natural light exposure can disrupt your circadian rhythms and cause symptoms of depression in the winter when daylight hours are shorter. Daylight affects serotonin and melatonin levels. Serotonin levels are increased with sunlight exposure and can boost feelings of happiness. Melatonin is produced more when it’s dark, causing you to feel sleepy and have less energy.
  • Vitamin D deficiency — Your body can produce vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It can help boost the activity of serotonin in your brain. Less sunlight and not getting enough vitamin D from other sources can make you more susceptible to developing SAD.

How is SAD in teens treated?

The good news is that seasonal depression is treatable. Effective treatment options can include:

  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication 
  • Vitamin D supplements

Ways therapy can help teens struggling to beat seasonal depression

Therapy can make a difference in the lives of teens struggling with SAD. One of the best things about therapy is that it provides teens with a safe space to talk about what they’re going through without the fear of judgment. Process-based therapy takes the best parts of techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). By taking the best parts of evidence-based techniques, our licensed clinical therapists can create tailored treatment designed for each individual teen, providing them with whole-person-centered care. Ways that PBT can help empower teens as they deal with seasonal depression include:

  • Spotting negative thoughts — A therapist can help teens learn how to acknowledge the sneaky negative thoughts that creep in and make them feel down. Once the teen has identified these thoughts, a therapist can help them challenge the accuracy or validity. This can help them learn to foster a more balanced and realistic perspective by replacing negative thoughts with more constructive ones. 
  • Learning skills to cope — After learning to recognize their negative thoughts and how to identify them early, teens can learn tools in therapy to help them cope on tough days. These coping skills can include relaxation techniques, ways to handle stress and how to problem-solve. By developing these skills, teens can take steps to keep the tough days from spiraling out of control with more severe depressive symptoms. 
  • Understanding the root issue — There’s always something more going on beneath the surface. A therapist can help teens dig deep and figure out if there are any bigger issues causing trouble, for example, stuff from the past or problems with friends that can make SAD an even bigger burden.
  • Setting realistic goals — Achieving big goals can feel overwhelming, but a therapist can help teens break big goals down into smaller, more manageable goals, to help them climb the emotional mountain one step at a time. Therapy also highlights the importance of celebrating all victories, big and small.
  • Becoming a better communicator — Teens are going through an intense stage of life without the added struggle of SAD. They may often feel like no one understands what they’re going through. Therapy can provide teens with a safe space to explore their thoughts and feelings, develop self-awareness, and practice communication skills. Under the guidance of a mental health professional, teens can discover and develop their own abilities to communicate more effectively.  
  • Bouncing back stronger — SAD doesn’t have to be a weight that keeps a person down. Therapy can help teens build strong mental and emotional resilience to be able to bounce back from the tough times stronger than ever. 
  • Taking care of themselves — Self-care isn’t just bubble baths and face masks. Self-care is taking care of one’s mental and emotional health. Therapy can help empower teens to prioritize their mental and emotional health by helping them understand the connection self-practice care can have with their overall well-being. Therapy can help teens figure out their unique self-care needs, create sustainable routines and navigate challenges that may hinder their self-care efforts. To help overcome challenges of SAD, a therapist can help teens understand the impact of light exposure on their mood and energy levels. They can work together to find ways to maximize their light exposure during the darker months. A good self-care routine should include ways for teens to support their mental and physical wellness. This could include keeping a regular sleep schedule, doing regular physical activity and reaching out for support when they need it.
  • Having someone in their corner — Everyone needs someone in their corner to listen and tell them that they’re not alone. While having parental support is great, having a therapist in a teen’s corner can also be beneficial. Therapists are trained to understand mental health issues like SAD. They can provide specialized care and strategies tailored to a teen’s needs. They can offer neutral and objective insights and support teens with techniques parents may not know. Therapy is a safe and confidential environment, and through their relationship with a therapist, teens can explore their feelings and experiences without worrying about judgment or bias. Working with a therapist can also help teens understand their condition and treatment options, which can help them be an active participant in their treatment and empower them to make more informed decisions about their recovery.

Addressing seasonal depression with Lightfully Teen

At Lightfully Teen, we provide whole-person care tailored to clients’ unique needs. We offer a continuum of compassion-focused care options designed to meet the diverse needs of teens struggling with seasonal depression. 

Change is possible. When they’re ready to take the first step, reach out to us. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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