By Lee Jung-ping, Tsai Ssu-pei and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Fatigue, depression, mood swings, loss of interest in daily activities and problems with sleep during the fall and winter months could be signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a psychiatrist in Taoyuan said.

SAD, also known as seasonal depression, is a form of depression that originally described the symptoms of people in northern Europe during winter, triggered by reduced exposure to daylight and lower temperatures, Landseed International Hospital psychiatrist Lin Po (林博) said.

Children can also be affected by seasonal depression, he said.

The start of a new school year typically takes some adjusting to and brings with it greater academic pressure, which could lead to trouble concentrating, mood instability and irritability, he added, urging parents to show more affection toward their children instead of casting blame.

To prevent or treat SAD, increase exposure to daylight and do more exercise, Lin said.

At least 15 minutes of exercise per day, during which the heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, is needed to stimulate receptors in the brain, and lower feelings of anxiety and depression, he said.

To increase exposure to daylight, people should be outside at about noon when sunlight is at its strongest; at night, they should avoid blue light from electronic devices or wear blue-light blocking glasses to help with sleep, he added.

Chang Chiao-ching (張巧靜), a nutritionist at the hospital, said studies have shown that the tryptophan found in bananas and chocolate can help the body synthesize serotonin and regulate emotions.

Fish oil, linseed oil and omega-3 fatty acids can also alleviate feelings of depression, she said.

However, diet cannot replace medication, she said, adding that depression is a disease that requires professional treatment.

In related news, a psychiatrist in Taipei said that she has seen a 20 percent rise in depression among parents.

One of her patients was diagnosed with depression after experiencing problems in his relationship with his son, said Shih Chia-tso (施佳佐), a psychiatrist at the Shu-Tien Urology Ophthalmology Clinic.

Poor communication with their children has been the reason that many parents have sought psychiatric help over the past few years, she said.

Society is changing fast, but some parents still want to help their children using their own personal experiences, without understanding the problems, pressures and challenges younger generations face, she added.

When either party is unable to feel love from the other, conflicts arise, causing emotional disturbances that could potentially trigger depression, she said.

Shih advises that parents facing similar situations seek medical or counseling resources as appropriate, learn better means of communication and use new ways of interacting with family members.