Lana del Rey may have the summertime sadness, but she’s not alone. Even though most people consider seasonal affective disorder (SAD) a condition that strikes in winter, the weather can cause changes in mental health in the warmer months as well, causing summer seasonal affective disorder.
Researchers already know that weather changes can result in varying physical pain levels, especially among sensitive individuals. And because people cannot divorce their minds from their bodies, it makes sense that the change of seasons could impact overall mood as well. Those who worry that they may suffer from this disorder benefit from learning the signs so they can seek care to help them cope.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The term “seasonal affective disorder” refers to a specific form of depression. Unlike other types of depression, though, SAD occurs only during a specific time of the year.
Many people in colder climates suffer seasonal affective disorder in the winter. Medical professionals have long associated the disorder with changing light levels which leave human beings in the dark for more than 12 hours daily. And many people who suffer from seasonal depression in the colder months do benefit significantly from a special form of light therapy that mimics the feel of natural sunlight.
Like other forms of depression, women experience seasonal affective disorder at higher rates than men. The reasons why remain unclear, although many scientists assert that hormones play a role.
Health care professionals remain uncertain exactly how summer seasonal affective disorder produces similar effects to winter SAD for some. They have noted, however, that those who live closer to the equator tend to suffer seasonal affective disorder more often during the hot and often rainy season. Decreases in barometric pressure may influence such mood changes, as tropical regions often experience hurricanes and monsoons during this time of year. Heat and humidity high enough to drive people indoors much of the time may also play a role.
Symptoms of Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder
Those worried that they or someone they love may suffer from summer seasonal affective disorder would do well to watch for the following symptoms. Like other forms of depression, interventions — including medications and counseling — can help bring relief:
- Low energy. Those suffering from any form of depression often report feeling exhausted much of the time. Those who become depressed in the summertime often feel like even moving their limbs requires a herculean effort. Winter SAD sufferers often sleep too much, but those affected in the summer tend toward insomnia.
- Changes in appetite. Those who suffer SAD in the winter months often eat more in an attempt to ward off the cold and boost their moods. Conversely, those who become depressed in the summertime often lose their appetite. Ever try to picnic on a 90-degree day?
- Changes in menstrual cycles. Anything from severe stress to dietary changes can result in altered menstrual cycles, and summer seasonal affective disorder likewise can impact women’s periods. Those who lose significant amounts of weight due to this type of depression may develop amenorrhea, or cessation of their periods.
- Loss of interest. Like those suffering from other forms of depression, those with summer SAD often lose interest in things that once brought them joy. They may transition from regularly enjoying active, outdoor exercise to lying on the couch binge-watching Netflix.
- Feelings of worthlessness. Most concerning, those suffering summer SAD can feel worthless, as if they have no purpose. If this symptom grows too severe, the risk of suicide increases significantly, as does the risk of substance abuse in younger people.
Treating Summer SAD
Treatments for summer seasonal affective disorder include medications and counseling. The first step in alleviating symptoms begins with a visit to the doctor to rule out potential physical problems that create similar issues. Once an underlying physiological cause is ruled out, doctors can refer patients for psychiatric care.
Counseling can help unearth additional factors contributing to the disorder. For example, someone who experienced a traumatic event or major life change such as divorce during the summer months may find memories triggered by the season. Talk therapy can help people process the emotions unearthed by the change in temperatures.
Taking a break can lift moods, but bear in mind this may not involve packing up the family truck and driving the kids down Florida way. Take time to rest when need be and say “no” to obligations which create undue stress. Ask for help when necessary — let the grandparents step in and take the little ones for a day or a weekend to get some much-needed relaxation time.
Beating the Summertime Blues
According to the song, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues, but there are things people can do to alleviate the symptoms. By seeking help in the form of counseling and antidepressants, you can return to happier days when the excitement of summer vacation brought you joy, not melancholy.