Depression bears an association to bleak weather, but melancholy isn’t always associated with the colder seasons. In fact, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) doesn’t only strike in the winter; it can still rear itself when the weather is warm and sunny — and it might even hit certain people harder in the summer months.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is depression brought on by the changing of the seasons, typically occurring at the end of fall or beginning of winter. In most cases, the depression wanes when the weather warms and the sun comes out more often. According to the Mayo Clinic, the drudgery usually will “start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.”
The Mayo Clinic lists out some of the more general symptoms:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Researchers aren’t sure what causes the condition, but there is evidence that those with the condition have decreased levels of serotonin — a chemical that stabilizes your mood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there is additional research that indicates people with SAD might produce too much melatonin — a chemical that’s crucial to sleep. As the NIMH notes, SAD isn’t a specific kind of depression, but rather a subset of major depression that’s catalyzed by seasonal stimuli.
There are symptoms that remain true regardless of the seasonal variant, but some symptoms are more common in the summer or winter. The NIMH lists these symptoms that more commonly prevail in the winter:
- Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
- Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
- Restlessness and agitation
- Episodes of violent behaviour
Summertime SAD is much more rare than its winter counterpart. Only around 1% per cent of the U.S. population experiences summer or spring SAD symptoms, as Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a SAD expert and a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, told Time.
As far as certain demographics affected by the condition, women are typically more likely to be diagnosed with SAD, although men are no strangers to it, either. All told, about 5% of the adult population experience the condition, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
What is different about summertime SAD?
Somewhat ironically, the condition can occur because of too much sunlight, which, as Time notes, can disrupt certain biological functions, like the production of melatonin. Excessive heat and sunlight can also throw some people off, and contribute to a more easily aggravated mood.
Social anxiety can also be a contributing factor, like when a group of people are out enjoying themselves and you develop a gnawing sense of FOMO.
How do you treat summer SAD?
In the case of SAD striking in the more torrid months, many of the tools involve cooling down, resting, and staying away from excessive light. It’s important to stay cool, and doing so in a dark room with strong air conditioning can be a great option. Just as those with winter SAD are often treated with light therapy, this stands as the opposite treatment.
There are also, of course, options like therapy and medication that can be included as part of your treatment plan. Adopting a treatment approach that works for you will be crucial when it comes to getting through the months you find more difficult.