HEALTHY MIND MATTERS

Utah woman: ‘As soon as it gets darker, my body changes,’ of seasonal affective disorder

Dec 29, 2021, 10:44 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2021, 9:03 am

Brought on by darkness, seasonal depression can make everyday tasks a struggle. It’s an illness that can seriously affect children this time of year, and a Utah psychiatrist explained how to recognize and treat it.

“We had no clue what was going on,” said Skylee Robillard, who lives in Salt Lake City. Something was off when Robillard was a junior in high school. “I was sitting in art class, and I just felt like I was gonna fall over every day I went to class,” she said. “I had no idea what was going on.”

Her symptoms worsened as the days got shorter.

“Yes, as soon as it gets darker. Even whenever the fall leaves start changing and everything. My body changes,” Robillard said.

Robillard has seasonal affective disorder, caused by the brain’s response to changes in daylight.

“I’d come home every day from school, and I would just lay in my room, turn off the lights and want to be in a completely dark room and just sleep,” Robillard said.

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms said Dr. Kristin Francis, a psychiatrist with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “People often feel tired, sluggish slowed,” Francis said.

Also, a craving for carbs, depressed mood and difficulty doing everyday tasks that starts in August or September, and lasts until spring.

“Sometimes people even start to feel really bad about themselves. So feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness,” she said.

Changes in mood and sleep are also symptoms.

Seasonal depression affects 5% of us. It occurs in women and girls four times more than boys or men, according to Francis, and can make other mental illnesses worse.

“In some people who maybe have an underlying predisposition to having too little serotonin, the light changes really affect things,” Francis said.

Francis and she said there is no research to support how seasonal affective disorder presents in different age groups.

Experts recommend encouraging your child to get plenty of exercise and to spend time outdoors, according to KidsHealth. Spend a little extra time with them to increase connection. Establish a good sleep routine, and be patient. Symptoms don’t ease right away.

Another remedy is behavioral activation, Francis explained. It involves doing activities that you previously enjoyed until you naturally want to do them. It’s an approach that focuses on how behaviors activate pleasant emotions. Other treatments may include medication, talk therapy and light therapy, Francis said.

“(Lightboxes) have to be 10,000 Lux units or more,” she said.

Robillard said a lightbox that simulates sunlight works for her.

“I lay in front of it. I have it about 6 feet away from me and I just lay there for 20 minutes,” she said. “As soon as I turn it off. I feel like a new person.”

She also takes vitamin D and journals her feelings. All good tactics to help children and teens weather the winter blues.

“You deserve to have a good experience during the fall and winter months,” Francis said.

If you suspect your child might have seasonal affective disorder, see a doctor.

“If you notice a pattern that over the years around the fall, you just start to feel differently and it can get pretty significant and impair your function your how you interact with the world,” Francis said.

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Utah woman: ‘As soon as it gets darker, my body changes,’ of seasonal affective disorder