Are You Suffering From Summer Depression? How to Tell If You Have It
Summer depression is a real phenomenon, although uncommon. Only about 10% of people with seasonal depression have the summer type. Some unique characteristics of summer depression include increased agitation and irritability, decreased sleep, insomnia, and weight loss. This type of depression can be tough to recognize because most people don’t associate summer with feeling sad. It’s important to recognize the signs and to get professional help to alleviate symptoms.
While the winter blues are more common, summer depression is a real phenomenon. First described in the literature in 1987, summer depression is a mental health condition triggered by the warmer months of the year.
No one knows for sure why summer triggers this mental health issue in some people, but it is a unique type of depression with characteristic symptoms.
If you have always dreaded the coming of summer, hate the hot weather, and have a hard time functioning normally, you could have summer depression.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is depression that comes and goes with the seasons. The onset and end of an episode are the same from year to year for each person. Most people with SAD experience symptoms in the fall and winter.
Only a small amount of people have what is called spring and summer SAD. It’s also known as summer depression or summer-onset SAD. The winter-onset variation is more common because of the colder weather, less sunlight, and more time spent indoors, which can be isolating.
Any version of SAD is more than seasonal or weather-related blues. Some shifts in mood as the seasons change is to be expected, but SAD is a real mental illness. It requires a professional diagnosis and care to overcome.
Signs of Summer Depression
Summer depression causes much of the same symptoms as other types, including winter depression:
- A feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and generally being down most of the time on most days
- Losing interest in activities and pursuits you used to enjoy
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits, potentially with changes in weight
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating and completing tasks
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or ashamed
- Having suicidal thoughts
There are some important differences between summer and winter depression. The winter type tends to make a person eat more, sleep more, and feel more lethargic and drained. If you have the summer type, the opposite is true. Summer depression makes people more agitated and irritable. They tend to eat less and sleep less, even struggling with insomnia.
What Are the Risk Factors for Summer Depression?
Exactly what causes any type of depression isn’t always clear. There are likely genetic components, but environmental triggers and experiences also play a role. Summer depression is uncommon and not as well understood as other types, but some factors that put you at a greater risk for it include:
- Changes to routines and schedules that often accompany summer, such as being out of school
- Isolation from friends when school ends, triggering loneliness
- Feeling uncomfortable in hot, humid weather
- Living somewhere with very hot and sunny summer conditions
- Having pollen and other spring and summer allergies
- Circumstances, such as health or money that don’t allow you to participate in typical summer activities or travel
- Anxiety and stress over body image issues and summer activities that require wearing less clothing or a bathing suit
The pressure to enjoy summer and its activities only add to this type of SAD. It’s challenging for other people to understand why you don’t like this time of year. They might put pressure on you to be happy or participate in activities, which isn’t helpful.
Summer Depression With Bipolar Disorder
If you have bipolar disorder, you have an increased risk for SAD, including the spring and summer types. While the winter version of SAD can increase depressive cycles, summer SAD might trigger more manic episodes.
Summer depression with bipolar disorder can cause or worsen mania, trigger hypomania—a less intense variety of mania—and make you feel more irritable, agitated, angry, or anxious.
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Getting a Diagnosis
The only way to know for certain that you have summer depression is to get a diagnosis from a mental health professional. Don’t hesitate to speak up about it and share your symptoms. Few doctors will immediately make the connection to summer depression because it isn’t that common. Emphasize the seasonal nature of your symptoms and ask about SAD as a possible diagnosis.
Tips for Living With Summer SAD
Professional support will help you learn to manage your seasonal depression, but you can also make some lifestyle changes and use healthy habits to boost your summer mood:
- Keep a journal. A journal of your moods and activities can help you identify triggers for depression. Once you know what sets back your mood, you can avoid it or find healthy ways to cope with what you can’t avoid.
- Cool off. Do what you can to stay cool in the summer. Keep the air conditioning on, for instance, or go to a local pool or take a cold shower to get relief from the heat.
- Go dark. Make your bedroom both cool and dark so you can sleep better. Use blackout curtains to keep sunlight at bay early in the morning. This should help you sleep in longer. Wear dark sunglasses when outside in the summer.
- Live by a schedule. If your summer is less routine than the rest of the year, it can throw off your mood. Creating and using a schedule will help you feel more in control.
- Avoid isolating. All kinds of depression are isolating. You may want to stay in and avoid social contact, but this only makes depression worse. The obligations of summer activities might also be a trigger for your depression, so don’t overdo it but do get out there and spend time with friends.
- Say no. While it’s important to stay social, you don’t have to be obligated to say yes to every invitation. Set healthy boundaries and avoid those events or activities you just don’t want to do or can’t afford.
- Maintain healthy habits. It’s easy to partake in unhealthy habits when you’re not feeling well. But eating poorly, being sedentary, and drinking too much will only worsen your depression. Exercise early in the morning so that you can avoid the heat. Cook with fresh, seasonal produce and limit your drinking.
If you or a loved one show signs of being depressed in the summer season, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. They can recommend recovery plans and lifestyle changes to help you cope and enjoy the season more.