Is There Such a Thing as Summertime Depression?

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Some forms of depression follow a seasonal pattern, coming and going during certain times of the year. We call this type of depression Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and in the Northern Hemisphere we generally associate SAD onset with winter. Estimates vary, but wintertime SAD affects roughly 1 in 6 people. There is some indication of a biochemical link to the disorder. By springtime, the symptoms of SAD generally lift as daylight hours increase.

Another variant of seasonal depression is sometimes termed, reverse or summertime SAD. For a small percentage of the population, recurring symptoms of depression are triggered during the spring or summer months.

What Causes Reverse SAD?

Dr. Jordan Gaines Lewis notes that while winter SAD is linked to a lack of sunlight, summer SAD is thought to result from too much sunlight. But this is only one theory. Other suggestions include the fact that extra daylight hours encourage us to stay up later and this may throw off our circadian rhythms.

High temperatures can also disrupt sleep patterns. Some people find increased light and heat levels well into the night both oppressive and agitating. We also can’t rule out a genetic component. According to Lewis, more than two-thirds of people with reverse SAD have a relative with a major mood disorder.

Ian Cook is a psychiatrist and professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Cook points out that during longer days, routines may change significantly, which can be stressful. Children have to be kept occupied, or if they’re are in college they may return home after months of absence.

Cook also suggests that body image issues can contribute to low moods. As the temperature climbs, the summer clothes go on and social gatherings take place around pools or on the beach. It can result in embarrassment and avoidance of social situations.

For working parents summer also means expense. The financial pressures of kids at home, expectations of a vacation, summer camps and babysitters while you go off to work can all add to stress.

Coping With Reverse SAD

Michael J. Breus, Ph.D suggests trying to keep to normal sleep hours during the lighter nights. This resets our circadian cycle and also helps prevent mood slumps that may result from disrupted sleep. Some approaches include:

  • Use heavy curtains to block out the light if necessary.
  • If you recognize your symptoms as seasonal then an important way to cope is to plan ahead. How can you take the pressure points off, or at least reduce them? Look around for new options or ways of sharing responsibilities.
  • Stay active. Exercise is hugely beneficial for both physical and mental health.
  • Get support. Whether it lasts for weeks or months there is no reason for you to shoulder the effects of depression. Talk it over with your doctor and if you are already taking medication for depression consider whether the dose is suitable for the lighter and longer days. Medication is only one option. You may also find that talk-therapy is highly effective.

Sources

(1) European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP). "Biochemical cause of seasonal depression (SAD) confirmed by researchers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141020212412.htm

(2) Lewis, J. G (2015) Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD in the Summer.https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-babble/201501/reverse-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad-in-the-summer

(3) Breus, M.J. (2006) _Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health._Dutton Adult.

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