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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
It’s normal to feel the blues in the winter when the days are cold and long. But for some people, those blues become more intense and may develop into a depressive disorder. This is actually a mental health condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
And while you may think SAD is just an issue in the dreary, darker winter months, there are some people who say they experience it in the summer.
But is summer SAD really a thing? And if so, what can you do about it?
SAD is a form of depression that is marked by significant changes in your mood connected to the changing seasons. Most commonly, SAD begins in the late fall or early winter months and lasts until spring — though there are some exceptions.
Though researchers do not know exactly what causes SAD, it is thought that those experiencing it have reduced activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Interestingly, sunlight can boost serotonin levels, so when these seasonal shifts occur, the decrease in outdoor light can affect some people’s mood.
About five percent of people in the United States get SAD, and it’s more common in women than in men.
People are also at a higher risk of developing SAD if they have another mood disorder, like bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, or if they have a relative who has SAD.
So, what happens if you have SAD? It can have a big impact on your daily life and can alter how you think and feel.
Symptoms of SAD include:
Cravings for carbs
Fatigue or low energy
Having feeling of depression more often than not
Sleep issues, like sleeping too much
Losing interest in things that you once enjoyed
The short answer to this question — yes, you can experience SAD during the summer months, though it is rare. Approximately one percent of Americans deal with summer seasonal affective disorder, a condition that is also known as reverse SAD.
While a lack of light in the colder months can induce SAD, it’s thought that too much light during the summer months can disrupt some people’s internal clocks and cause depression. This is because the added daylight may disrupt the natural production of melatonin, which helps with sleep.
Symptoms specifically associated with reverse SAD are:
Weight loss or a loss of appetite
Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
There are also specific triggers that are thought to activate this condition. They are:
Schedule shifts: Summertime can mean lots of socializing and schedule changes, which can aggravate SAD. On that note, social behavior, like drinking a bit more, can also be a trigger.
More daylight: When it stays light out longer, it can throw off your sleep schedule — which can be problematic for your mood.
Going on vacation: Though they’re meant to be relaxing, vacations can be stress-inducing. That anxiety can kick your SAD into high gear. Read our blog about how to beat post vacation depression.
If you think you may be experiencing any kind of SAD, a mental health professional can evaluate and diagnose you. He or she will review your symptoms and, if necessary, can give you treatment options.
Here are some of the more common treatments available for SAD:
Light therapy: Also called phototherapy, this treatment involves sitting near a light therapy box for 30 minutes or more. These light treatment boxes often use full-spectrum fluorescent lights and have been found to be effective for SAD. However, since reverse SAD may be due to too much light exposure, this may not be the best treatment for it.
Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to have the longest-lasting effects when it comes to helping with SAD. With this form of therapy, you’ll learn to identify patterns that do not serve you and come up with ways to make changes.
Seasonal depression is a real thing — and it can be more serious than the winter blues. Formally called SAD, this condition most often occurs in the winter months. Though rare, some people also experience something called reverse SAD, meaning they experience summer depression.
While winter SAD can be caused by a lack of natural light, it’s thought that summer SAD is caused by too much light, which can throw off your internal clock.
With this type of depression, you may experience a lower baseline energy level, poor appetite and other depressive symptoms.
If you have been dealing with depressive episodes and think you may be dealing with reverse SAD, you should schedule a consultation with a health care provider such as a psychiatrist to discuss your options.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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