Yes, you can be depressed in the summer. Some people actually feel depressed every summer and they may have summer seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
But WHAT is summer SAD and why does it happen?
People with SAD generally have depression that happens seasonally and for at least two years in a row. You might notice feeling sad, tired, hungry, or less motivated. More people seem to feel this way in the winter (up to 20-40%) when they experience the “winter blues.” When these feelings continue and are persistent for at least 2 weeks, they might have SAD. Less than 5% of all people have SAD in the winter and probably less than 1% experience this in the summer (although we don’t have good data on this). Many people don’t realize that they are experiencing depression with a seasonal pattern (SAD) at all, because it comes and goes with the seasons. Summer SAD looks a little different too. People have a harder time sleeping, eat less, and feel more irritable rather than just sad.
But WHY does this happen?
Experts believe that any seasonal change in mood happens because of things that happen OUTSIDE of the body. In other words, SAD, whether it happens in the winter or summer, is probably triggered by environmental factors. In the winter, this could be the cold, less sunlight, shorter days. This may result in decreased levels of our mood helping neurotransmitters (like serotonin) and changes in how our body releases melatonin (which helps us regulate our sleep). In the summer, this could actually be due increased light exposure and even being exposed to the heat and pollen! It can also be made worse by changing schedules, vacations, changing work and leisure patterns, and longer days that change sleep patterns. While many of us are familiar with the winter blues, it may be harder to recognize people who have the blues in the summer. People assume that everyone loves being outdoors in the summer and engaging in summertime fun, but for people with summer SAD, doing these things can make them feel worse.
What is difficult to know is if people who have depression in the summer have underlying mental health diagnoses (like bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder) or SAD alone. People with cyclical mood disorders can often experience an increase in symptoms in the mid to late spring or early to late fall. Research also suggests that the risk of death by suicide is highest in the late spring/early summer. People who have summer SAD often also experience other mental health conditions such as ADHD and others. Whether someone has SAD or another mental health diagnosis, people who have depression in the summer should take their mental health symptoms seriously and seek help if they seem to be getting worse.
What can HELP with summer SAD?
There are lots of things that can help with depression in general, including a range of lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication (Previous post with tips here).
For the winter blues and winter SAD, it is helpful to: 1) Increase light exposure, 2) Spend time outdoors, 3) Follow a schedule/pattern for sleeping, eating, and daily activities, 4) Exercise, 5) Connect with others and seek support, and 6) Increase Vitamin D.
Because it does not seem like the causes of summer SAD are the same and it is less well-studied, the recommendations for improving how you feel is not quite as clear.
For Summer SAD, recommendations include:
1. Staying cool and seeking a cool space. Keeping cool throughout the day by taking cold showers, drinking cool beverages, decreasing heat in the home environment and/or traveling to cooler places.
2. Starting medication early if you take it. Many people with winter SAD also restart their medications PRIOR to the season. For summer SAD, this may mean starting medications (like antidepressant medications) in the spring months.
3. Finding the light exposure that works best for you. For some people this may mean decreasing light throughout the day. Some people find that planning out when they will be exposed to light during the day can also be helpful (for example, using bright light early in the day and then decreasing light for the rest of the day). You may also use sunglasses frequently and/or light blocking glasses in the evening hours.
4. Continuing to focus on the mental health essentials such as having enough sleep and a regular sleep pattern, keeping a good schedule, eating well, and maintaining social connection that is meaningful to you.
5. Seeking help from a professional and peer support if your symptoms are not getting better, especially if you are having difficulty sleeping and taking care of your daily essentials. You should immediately seek help or go to the emergency room if you are having thoughts of death or harm to yourself. It is important to seek help and not manage this alone.
While summer SAD is still being studied and is not as well understood as winter SAD, there are things you can do to recognize it and feel better. Remember that it is absolutely OK to ask other for help. Know that you are not alone in experiencing SAD in the summer and there are things you can do to get better.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls
Please note: If you are in need of immediate assistance in the U.S., please contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or at 1-800-273-8255 (Español: 1-888-628-9454; Hearing Support: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Additional reading and resources:
Previous TNG Posts on Seasonal Affective Disorder: