When we hear the term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), many of us immediately conjure up images of the cold, grey winter months, marked by short days, long nights, and a pervasive sense of melancholy.
However, does that mean SAD is exclusive to the winter season? Can one experience Seasonal Affective Disorder during the seemingly 'happy' and sunny summer months? This blog will delve into this question, exploring the concept of summer SAD, its possible causes, symptoms, and treatment methods.
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder, as defined by the NHS, is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. It is often dubbed 'winter depression' because the symptoms tend to be more severe during winter. The typical symptoms include persistent low mood, a lack of interest or pleasure in normal everyday activities, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, lethargy, and sleep problems.
While the winter variant is indeed the most commonly known form of SAD, the disorder can manifest in other seasons as well. This brings us to the concept of 'summer SAD'.
Summer SAD: A Lesser-Known but Real Phenomenon
Summer SAD is a subtype of SAD that occurs during the late spring and summer months. While it is less common than its winter counterpart, summer SAD is a recognised condition impacting a segment of individuals affected by SAD. The American Psychiatric Association acknowledges that around 10% of SAD cases occur in summer.
Summer SAD deviates from the winter version in some fundamental ways. Instead of feeling lethargic and having an increased appetite, individuals with summer SAD often experience symptoms such as insomnia, decreased appetite, weight loss, and agitation or anxiety.
What Causes Summer SAD?
The exact causes of SAD are not fully understood, and this holds true for summer SAD as well. However, various theories offer some insights.
One dominant theory points to the role of sunlight. Just as the lack of sunlight in winter can disrupt the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, leading to winter SAD, the extended daylight hours in summer can also disrupt this balance, leading to summer SAD. Overexposure to sunlight may lead to changes in the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation.
Another theory suggests that high temperatures and humidity in the summer months may be a trigger. The discomfort associated with this can lead to agitation, restlessness, and disrupted sleep, all common symptoms of summer SAD.
However, these are theories based on observation and correlation rather than proven causation, and more research is needed to solidify these claims.
How is Summer SAD Diagnosed and Treated?
Diagnosing summer SAD involves a thorough evaluation by a mental health professional. As with any form of depression, it is important not to self-diagnose but seek professional help if you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of SAD.
The treatment for summer SAD can involve various methods, often in combination. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is commonly used to help individuals cope with depressive symptoms and identify and manage triggers. Medication such as antidepressants can also be an option.
Given the role of disrupted circadian rhythms in SAD, maintaining a regular sleep schedule is often recommended. This can be challenging in the long summer days, so it may involve managing your light exposure, such as using blackout curtains in your bedroom.
It's also worth noting the potential role of heat and humidity in triggering summer SAD. Strategies to stay cool and comfortable, such as staying in air-conditioned environments, staying hydrated, and avoiding strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day, may be beneficial.
A Fresh Perspective
The concept of summer SAD challenges the common perception of Seasonal Affective Disorder as a winter-only phenomenon. It reminds us that mental health disorders do not conform to our expectations or stereotypes. Just as the long, dark winter days can be a time of struggle for many, so too can the bright, hot summer days. As a society, we need to acknowledge and validate the experiences of individuals dealing with summer SAD. As mental health professionals, we need to be aware of the potential for summer SAD and be prepared to provide the necessary support and treatment.
In conclusion, while Seasonal Affective Disorder is commonly associated with the winter months, it is indeed possible to experience this disorder during the summer. It is a real and valid condition, albeit lesser-known and somewhat misunderstood. If you find yourself struggling with symptoms of depression during the summer months, remember, you are not alone, and help is available. Seeking professional help is the first step towards understanding and managing your mental health, no matter the season.
Let's broaden our understanding of Seasonal Affective Disorder and shed light on its lesser-known aspects, thereby fostering empathy, reducing stigma, and ultimately improving mental health support for all those affected.
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