Relating a little too much to Lana Del Ray’s “Summertime Sadness?” There might be a reason for that. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression caused by changes in the seasons, and 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 term with his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health in 1984.
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 differ drastically. “The winter types are slow thinking, slow moving. The summer types are sometimes energized and agitated in a way that isn’t very pleasant,” Dr. Rosenthal, who’s a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, told POPSUGAR. “The winter types will be eating more, especially sweets and starches. The summer types may lose their appetites completely.” Finally, “while the winter types tend to sleep more, the summer types are more likely to have insomnia,” Dr. Rosenthal explained.
He added that people with summer SAD are actually at 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 said.
What Causes Seasonal Depression in the Summer?
There are a few potential triggers for summer depression. Dr. Rosenthal said that heat and light are two major factors. 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 may also contribute to summer SAD. After all, the resurgence of swimsuits and summertime travel can bring issues like negative body image and financial troubles into sharp focus, Dr. Rosenthal explained. 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.
Tonya Ladipo, LCSW, CEO of The Ladipo Group, added that summer SAD can be exacerbated by feelings of isolation. “In summertime, people think of vacation and fun,” Ladipo explained. “If you’re struggling with depression in the wintertime, a lot of people do, and so it’s more understandable and more familiar. There’s this idea that it’s summer, and you should be happy. If you’re not, it’s hard.”
What Should I Do If I Have Summer SAD?
There’s lots of research into cures for winter SAD, but summer SAD is a little trickier to treat. 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 recommends still going outside in the early morning or the evening, even if the heat and light are triggers, in order to avoid isolating yourself and making the depression worse.
If the feelings of depression and agitation are persistent, talk to a doctor or therapist. “Depression can be a really serious business, especially if you’re having suicidal thoughts,” Dr. Rosenthal said. “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 a loved one are experiencing suicidal ideation or are at risk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has several resources and a 24/7 lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.