An Overview of Summer Depression

Summer Depression: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Coping

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not considered a specific diagnosis in the current DSM-5. It is recognized as a recurrent major depressive disorder within a seasonal pattern specifier, however the term is still commonly applied. This pattern most commonly begins in the fall and continues into the winter months. While not as common as fall and winter depression, SAD can also affect people in the late spring into the summer months. 

"Summer depression", which is also referred to as reverse seasonal affective disorder and formally as major depressive disorder (MDD) with a seasonal pattern, is a form of SAD that flares up during the summertime, and typically returns every year at about the same time and resolves at characteristic times.

Symptoms

Unlike fall and winter SAD -- which typically presents with low energy, pervasive sadness, daytime tiredness, and decreased activity -- individuals who experience SAD in the summer, often present with the opposite symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The symptoms of summer depression are often the opposite of those associated with fall and winter SAD.

For most people with summer depression, symptoms begin in late spring or early summer and end in the fall. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Weight loss
  • Poor sleeping and sleeping less (insomnia)
  • Decrease in appetite

Causes

There have been many theories as to why people experience depression during the summer months. However, the research is limited, and most of the studies reference fall and winter SAD. That said, there are some specific theories that many experts refer to when considering the cause of summer depression.

Most notable is exposure to too much sunlight in the summer months which leads to changes in the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. When this happens, your melatonin production is lower, and your sleep-wake cycle is thrown off, resulting in disrupted sleep patterns.

Other theories that may explain why some people experience seasonal depression in the summer include:

  • Increase in pollen counts
  • High temperatures
  • Longer days
  • Lack of a routine or structure
  • Negative body image
  • Extreme heat
  • Not enough sleep
  • Feelings of aloneness

While both winter and summer seasonal depression can affect anyone, there are certain groups of people where SAD is more common:

  • It occurs four times more often in women than in men
  • The age of onset is estimated to be between 18 and 30 years old
  • Family history of other types of mood disorders

Diagnosis

To be diagnosed with SAD or summer depression, the National Institute of Mental Health says you must meet the full criteria for major depression coinciding with a specific season, in this case, summer. Since this is a recurring seasonal pattern, symptoms must be present for at least the last two years. The guidelines further state that the symptoms experienced during the summer must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal symptoms of depression. 

In order to determine if you meet the criteria, practitioners need to ask the right questions to determine if individuals presenting with depression are, in fact, suffering from a seasonal affective disorder. This can only be done by a thorough assessment of the relationship between an individuals’ depressive symptoms, time of year, and history. 

Since a diagnosis requires the presence of symptoms for a two-year period, it’s important to note that you will not receive this diagnosis the first time you experience symptoms. 

Treatment

The presence of a seasonal depressive disorder such as summer depression can be debilitating. Like many other mood disorders, there are actions you can take to lessen the severity of the symptoms associated with summer depression. 

Seek professional help.

The use of psychotherapy is highly recommended to treat depressive disorders and would likely benefit any individual suffering from summer depression. More specifically, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be very effective in treating SAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that looks at the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. CBT teaches you new ways of thinking, acting, and reacting to situations that worsen the symptoms of summer depression.

Medication

Antidepressants are a group of drugs commonly prescribed for treating depression that work by increasing levels of a group of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters (primarily serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine) which are involved in regulating mood. 

The antidepressants approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for treating depression include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Also approved are bupropion and mirtazapine, among others. Bupropion, has an FDA indication specifically for the treatment of SAD.

Most medications take some time before you feel relief from depressive symptoms. Your medical provider may need to adjust dosage or change medications during treatment.

Coping

If summer depression is interfering with your daily activities, working with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that involves psychotherapy and/or medication should be the first step. Beyond that, there are lifestyle modifications that may help ease the symptoms and boost your mood. 

  • Participate in regular exercise. Taking part in a regular exercise program that includes physical activities you enjoy may help decrease the symptoms of depression. Although any degree of exercise can potentially be helpful, to get the most benefits, aim for 30-60 minutes a day, five days a week, of aerobic and strength training exercises.
  • Observe symptom patterns. If the summer months are bothersome year after year, consider keeping track of any patterns or timelines of when symptoms develop. This information may be helpful when seeking a diagnosis. It also allows you to create a plan for managing the symptoms. 
  • Practice mindfulness meditation and deep breathing. Deep breathing exercises combined with a daily practice of mindfulness meditation can help you become aware of your thoughts, feelings, and body states without reacting to them or believing them to be true.

A Word From Verywell

Recognizing the seasonal pattern that comes with summer depression can help you find ways to better manage the symptoms. That said, if you’re concerned about your physical or mental health, you may want to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss any questions you may have.

Being open and honest about how you’re feeling can help relieve some of the stress you may be experiencing. It also helps your doctor make a proper diagnosis. Working together, you can create a treatment plan that addresses your needs.

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Article Sources

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  2. Major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression/Major-Depressive-Disorder-with-a-Seasonal-Pattern. Reviewed August 2017.

  3. Niemegeers P. Bupropion for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism and Toxicology. 2013 Sep;9(9):1229-40. doi: 10.1517/17425255.2013.804062.

  4. Blake H. Physical activity and exercise in the treatment of depression. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2012; 3: 106. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2012.00106

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