Ever heard of summertime sadness? No, it’s not just a Lana Del Rey song. Your mental health can actually be negatively impacted by seasonal changes — even when it involves warmer weather.
This phenomenon is often referred to as seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a type of depression caused by changes in the seasons. While it’s usually associated with the short, gloomy days of winter — which can leave some feeling tired, sluggish, and unmotivated — 10 to 15 percent of people with SAD experience symptoms in the summer, according to Norman Rosenthal, MD, who first coined the general term with his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health in 1984.
The National Institute of Health also refers to this summer sadness as summer-pattern SAD or summer depression. While it’s less common than winter-pattern SAD, it can still be responsible for those seasonal mood changes or depression. POPSUGAR chatted with Dr. Rosenthal to learn more about summer depression and what to do if you have summer-pattern SAD.
What Are the Symptoms of Summer SAD?
Though SAD is characterized by depression no matter the season, the symptoms people experience in the winter and summer can drastically differ. Winter types of SAD presents as a “slow-thinking, slow-moving” type of depression that involve eating more (usually sweets and starches), Dr. Rosenthal says. Summer SAD, on the other hand, is a more agitated type of depression that usually results in a loss of appetite. Dr. Rosenthal also notes that winter types tend to sleep more, while summer types are more likely to have insomnia. People with summer SAD are also at a higher risk for suicide. “That goes along with clinical observations that it is more common for people to be suicidal when they’re depressed and agitated than when they’re depressed and sluggish,” Dr. Rosenthal says.
What Causes Depression in the Summer?
There are a few potential triggers for summer depression, from the actual change in temperature to a shift in your routine.
- Heat and light: Dr. Rosenthal says that heat and light can be two major factors when it comes to summer seasonal depression. Evidence suggests that some people’s bodies react poorly to high temperatures and bright light, creating a physiological imbalance that can harm their mental health.
- Social factors: The resurgence of swimsuits and summertime travel can bring issues like negative body image and financial troubles into sharp focus, Dr. Rosenthal explains, causing summer SAD.
- Changes in routine: Others rely on school or work to help keep them grounded, which can cause them to feel lost when their routine is disrupted during the summer, per University of Michigan Medicine.
- Feelings of isolation: Tonya Ladipo, LCSW, CEO of The Ladipo Group, added that summer SAD can be exacerbated by feelings of isolation. People tend to associate more with winter-pattern SAD, so dealing with with summer SAD can feel like a lonely and unique experience. “In summertime, people think of vacation and fun,” Ladipo says. And it may be harder for them to process the idea or feelings associated with summer depression.
What Should I Do If I Have Summer Depression?
Dr. Rosenthal recommends first trying to find reprieve from the heat and light. He observed that some of his patients felt better after taking a cold shower, swimming in a lake or ocean, staying indoors with the air conditioning on, or wearing sunglasses. However, Dr. Rosenthal noted that researchers “haven’t been able to establish a systematic way” to treat summer SAD.
Ladipo suggests starting a mood journal to track how you’re feeling every day, as well as talking to people in your support system and moving your body in whatever way feels good to you — whether that’s dancing, running, swimming, or something else. She also recommends continuing to go outside in the early morning or the evening, when the heat tends to be milder, in order to avoid isolating yourself and making the depression worse.
Also: talk to a doctor or therapist, especially if the feelings of depression and agitation are persistent. “Depression can be a really serious business, especially if you’re having suicidal thoughts,” Dr. Rosenthal says. “All these self-help tips are wonderful and valuable, but if you’re really suffering, you really want to see a professional.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has resources available including a helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6424). You can also dial 988, the nation’s new mental health crisis hotline.
— Additional reporting by Alexis Jones