Those who are familiar with the term seasonal affective disorder (SAD) most often associated the condition with depression that occurs during the winter months. While 4-6 percent of American adults are believed to have winter seasonal affective disorder, there is an even smaller percentage of the population, just below 1 percent, who suffer from summer seasonal affective disorder. This less commonly known condition causes similar symptoms in affected individuals, however, it can sometimes be more difficult to diagnose.
SAD In The Summer
Individuals who become depressed during the summer months may not immediately realize that their symptoms are indicative of summer SAD. Many times people relate their symptoms during the summer to nothing more than a change in schedule as the warm weather approaches. Much like depression, summer SAD generally affects women more than men. Although the condition can develop at any time, even in childhood, it is most common during a woman’s reproductive years.
Winter Blues VS Summer Depression
Although both winter and summer seasonal affective disorder often share depression as their main symptom, there are some differences in the other symptoms that develop for each type. Individuals who suffer from winter SAD may experience:
- Weight gain
- Lack of energy
- Craving carbohydrates
These are the opposite of the symptoms experienced by individuals suffering from summer SAD, such as:
- Weight loss
- Inability to fall asleep
- Increased sex drive
- Lack of appetite
Other symptoms that are generally present for both winter and summer seasonal affective disorder include:
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
For both winter and summer seasonal affective disorder, the condition and its symptoms will return and disappear at the same time every year. For individuals who experience a deviation from their normal mood, the body’s systems that normally regulate the mood jump into action. In individuals suffering from seasonal SAD, the internal systems that regulate mood become overwhelmed during the change of seasons. This prevents them from being able to effectively do their job, leading to the development of seasonal SAD symptoms.
Common Causes Of Seasonal Affective Disorder In The Summer
Although most cases of winter SAD are believed to be a result of the way the body responds to a lack of adequate sunlight, researchers are not quite sure what the underlying cause is for winter SAD. Seasonal affective disorder that occurs during the winter months appears to be linked to elevated levels of the hormone melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping to balance the brain’s daily rhythm. When an individual with winter SAD experiences a deceased amount of light exposure, the brain’s rhythm is disrupted. No such link has yet been discovered in individuals suffering from summer SAD.
One popular theory is that people with summer seasonal affective disorder are more sensitive to heat and/or humidity. Some research suggests a sensitivity to the light from the sun may be to blame. Researchers are still trying to figure out whether it is the heat or the light that is the main culprit.
Some research suggests that individuals with summer SAD suffer from a malfunction of the body’s natural clock. The theory is that the circadian rhythm that regulates the sleep cycle is misaligned during the summer months. Rather than signaling a cue to dawn, people with summer SAD may have a circadian rhythm that cues to dusk in response to the extended daylight. When this happens, the body’s regular sleep-wake cycle is shortened or delayed, which may lead to feelings of depression and other SAD symptoms.
Although it is not an underlying cause for the condition, some researchers believe that the change in, or lack of, routine during the summer may trigger or worsen SAD symptoms. When younger children are out of school for the summer, it can lead to the stress of finding a summertime routine for them. Alternately, when older children come home from college for the summer, it can be difficult for parents to adjust to having them back in the home after almost a year of absence.
Any time there is a significant change to one’s daily routine, it can interfere with normal eating and sleeping habits and disrupt your work and home life, which can add to depressive symptoms.
Some medical professionals believe that another contributing factor to summer SAD are the feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment that can accompany a body that is not quite ready for the bathing suit season. Many people are self-conscious about their weight or their appearance. During the summer months, when bathing suit season is in full swing, these feelings are amplified.
Some individuals who are extremely unhappy with their appearance will avoid social gatherings that revolve around pools and beaches. In addition to the negative feelings they are experiencing, being isolated from peers can compound depressive symptoms.
Researchers have found that more than 60 percent of individuals who suffer from seasonal affective disorder have a close relative with the condition, pointing to a possible genetic component.
What To Look For
Many of the symptoms of summer seasonal affective disorder are similar to depression and other emotional disorders. To be classified as summer SAD, symptoms must occur only during the warm weather months and disappear as the cold weather appears. Symptoms must come and go at about the same time every year. The most common indicators of summer SAD are:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Increased sex drive
Additional signs to watch for are the basic symptoms of depression, such as:
- Strong feelings of guilt
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
Treatment for summer SAD generally includes medication, counseling or therapy, and learning different strategies to help alleviate symptoms and avoid triggers. Strategies that may be effective at relieving summer SAD symptoms include:
- Spending time in air-conditioning
- Keeping the room as dark as possible
- Taking frequent cool showers
- Going for an evening swim in a cool pool after the sun has gone down
- Spending 30 minutes in the sunlight each morning to shift the body’s circadian rhythm back to normal
Medications that may be prescribed to treat symptoms of summer SAD include:
- Low-dose melatonin supplements
- Mood stabilizers
- Anti-anxiety medication
Seeking Medical Attention
Much like depression, individuals who suffer from a severe case of summer seasonal affective disorder are at risk for suicide. In fact, people who suffer from summer SAD have a higher risk of suicide than those who suffer from winter SAD. This is because suicidal tendencies are more likely to develop in an individual who experiences depression and agitation than in one who experiences depression and lethargy.
Having a bad day here and there or feeling blue occasionally is not generally cause for alarm. However, when depression or changes in mood are present for several consecutive days, it can signal a problem. If you experience these feelings for a few days at a time and just can’t bring yourself to get motivated to continue with your normal routine, call your doctor immediately. If left untreated, summer SAD can lead to worsening of symptoms and increase the risk of suicide. Summer seasonal affective disorder is much easier to treat if it is identified in the early stages.