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3 min read

What schools need to know about seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

It is normal to miss the summer months and lighter evenings, but when does season preference turn into seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? We explore all you need to know about SAD and how to support your pupils and staff through these winter months.


What is seasonal affective disorder in education?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) occurs at specific times of the year and is a type of depression. It is known as SAD- you may have heard of the term ‘winter blues’. Seasonal affective disorder is more than not enjoying the winter weather and feeling a little sluggish, SAD is when a person experiences prolonged low mood that affects their daily life.

It is thought that SAD is linked closely to the reduction of sunlight hours during the autumn and winter months. In the UK, we know the winters can be long and dark! The part of the brain (the Hypothalamus) that controls the production of melatonin and serotonin and the body’s internal clock is suspected to be affected by the lack of sunlight.

Pupils, staff or parents who experience SAD will benefit from additional understanding during these times. It is helpful to know the suspected root causes, signs to look out for and steps you can take as a school to support people experiencing seasonal affective disorder.


Children walking to school in winter weather

How is seasonal affective disorder diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with SAD, a GP will carry out assessments over a period of time. It can be at least two years before a diagnosis of SAD is confirmed- this is due to spotting the patterns due to the change in weather and sunlight. 

GPs will ask prompting questions about a person’s mood, thoughts, lifestyle, eating and sleeping patterns, impact on daily life and family history with depression. Those who have a family history of depression may be more likely to experience depressive symptoms.

If a pupil, staff member or parent is displaying depressive symptoms that may be SAD, they do not have to wait two years for help. Tracking the behaviours that pupils display can be beneficial to building a calendar of when the symptoms are felt. But GP support and lifestyle changes can happen anytime to improve mood and get through depressive periods. Almost 1 in 4 young people will experience depressive moods before they are 19 years old, so recognising and recording information at a school can help to build a pupil’s medical history.  

Explore more about tracking mental health concerns like SAD.


A teenager talking to a doctor about depressive symptoms


How does seasonal affective disorder affect students?

Depressive symptoms can vary between pupils. As with tracking all medical incidents and changes in behaviour, it is important to know what a pupil’s ‘normal’ behaviours and motivation levels are. Having access to student health records can highlight patterns of mental health concerns, adding possible explanations for changes in behaviour. 

The common ways in which SAD can affect students are: 

  • Reduced attendance
  • Lower academic performance
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability increase
  • Lower energy levels
  • Decrease in motivation
  • Sleep issues
  • Self-harm
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Increased physical health problems (colds, infections and other illnesses)

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How to help children with seasonal affective disorder

If a child in your school experiences depressive moods, they should be under GP guidance. There are a number of ways you can support pupils and staff members who may experience SAD or depression. 


Having an open-door policy

Offering pupils the opportunity to talk and get supportive advice can help to break negative thought cycles. You may find a number of frequent first-aid visitors don’t have physical injuries; they are just looking for someone to talk to. Track these visits easily online, creating reports on injury and illness trends, pupil frequency and times of the academic year these may spike.


Promote physical exercise

Movement is good for mental health; a number of medical conditions (like ADHD) are more susceptible to experiencing mental health issues throughout their life. Evaluate the opportunities for movement your school offers throughout the school day- this doesn’t always need to be active games… get creative.


Have regular communication with parents

Sharing medical information, including any medications to be administered, is vital for giving the child the support they need. Having regular and easy communication with parents can’t be overlooked. 

See how we streamline parent communication relating to illness, injuries and mental health concerns. 


Increase awareness

Circling back to the suggested figure of 1 in 4 young people experiencing depressive moods before they are 19. The need for knowledge of symptoms to look out for and, importantly, the avenues to explore for support is essential for school-aged children. 


Gather information

Midday supervisors or lunchtime staff may be more likely to notice changes in a pupil’s activity levels or social withdrawal signs. Ensure all of your school staff have access to input information about mental health concerns using an online accident book.


 A teacher recording an incident using a mobile device


How can Medical Tracker help?

We are the leading UK online accident book for a reason, schools use our software to record, track and monitor injuries, illnesses and mental health concerns every day. Whether you are looking to improve your processes surrounding self-harm incidents or to monitor regular first aid room visitors, our easy-to-use software will help you to increase visibility, remain GDPR and HSE compliant and increase pupil safety.

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