Depressed During the Summer? It may be Seasonal Affective Disorder

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I'm gonna raise a fuss, I'm gonna raise a hollerAbout a workin' all summer just to try to earn a dollarEvery time I call my baby, and try to get a dateMy boss says, "No dice son, you gotta work late"Sometimes I wonder what I'm a gonna doBut there ain't no cure for the summertime blues.(The Summertime Blues lyrics by Eddie Cochran)
I am sure we have all heard this song before about the summertime blues. But what about when summer triggers something more intense than the blues? How many of us become depressed when the temperature increases and the days grow longer? I hadn't realized that for some individuals, this is exactly what happens.

One of the most popular questions we have had on My Depression Connection is "Is there Spring Depression?" which garnished almost a hundred comments. Many members were saying that their depression was triggered by the increasing temperatures of spring, and for some, this seasonal depression would last into the hot summer months. I was intrigued by this and decided to do some research.

Summer has never been my favorite season. But now I have even more reason to dislike it as I have Multiple Sclerosis. The heat is my kryptonite. It causes me to have neurological symptoms of dizziness, weakness and even muscle spasms. Lately I have been dreading summer's arrival and the knowledge that there is nothing I can do about this change of seasons. I do feel depressed when I know that the temperature is going to rise.

For some people summer depression is a variant of what we call SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Most of us have heard about SAD with relation to the winter months but it can also occur in the spring and summer months as well. In a 2002 New York Times article entitled "Seasonal Depression Can Accompany Summer Sun" it was estimated that approximately 5 percent of adult Americans have winter seasonal affective disorder and about 1 percent of the population has what is known as Summer SAD. And this is purely speculation and armchair hypothesizing on my part, but I wonder if heat is the culprit for this type of depression, much like heat is the trigger for many of my neurological symptoms of MS.

My research for writing this article seems to indicate that my hypothesis is not so farfetched. Our Deborah Gray wrote about heat and a rise in body temperature as a possible trigger for summer depression in her post, "SAD in the Summer."   She states that: "This theory is supported by anecdotal evidence   of sufferers obtaining temporary relief by staying out of the sun and keeping cool using air conditioning or cold packs." This is precisely what I have to do during the summer months to prevent having MS heat induced symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Summer SAD?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, the symptoms of summer SAD may include:

  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety

In extreme cases the individual suffering from Summer SAD may have suicidal fantasies. This is a great concern for any untreated episodes of depression. On this Community Mental Health Services site they say that most suicides take place in spring and summer with July and August being the most risky. And in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders the authors found that there is a strong seasonal effect on suicide occurrence and that high levels of solar radiation activity were associated with an increased risk of suicide.

If you are curious as to whether this type of depression may affect you, you can find automated on-line self assessments and therapeutic tools from The Center of Environmental Therapeutics.   They offer confidential screening tools for things like finding out about your circadian rhythm type or your current level of depression.

If you believe that you may be suffering from summer seasonal affective disorder it is highly recommended that you consult with a therapist or other mental health professional. If you don't have a therapist right now, discuss your symptoms with your general practitioner who can make a referral for you.

How about you? Do you suffer more from depression when it gets warm outside? In which season do you feel the most depressed. If you do suffer from Summer SAD, what helps you? Tell us your story. We want to hear what you have to say.