Summer is traditionally a time of good cheer. We look forward to the endless days of sunshine and balmy temperatures, and the annual family holiday somewhere hot, but for a small minority, depression and irritability kicks in as soon as the days lengthen and the mercury begins to climb, so what is summer seasonal affective disorder and what causes it?
Summer seasonal affective disorder is not the same as the more common form of seasonal affective disorder that occurs over the winter months. It is also a lot rarer. Summer SAD affects less that 1% of the population and is most common in women aged between 20 and 40.
Some experts believe that summer seasonal affective disorder is caused by the high temperatures of summer leading to a fall in melatonin in the brain. The symptoms of summer SAD always return at about the same time each summer and it is possible that they are caused by exposure to too much sunlight—although there has been some speculation that summer seasonal affective disorder is actually a variation of bipolar disorder. The condition can be exacerbated by large fluctuations in atmospheric pressure and rainfall and is more commonly seen in hot countries near the equator.
What are the summer seasonal affective disorder symptoms?
Some of the symptoms of summer seasonal affective disorder are the same as winter SAD and they include irritability, insomnia, anxiety and depression, plus vague physical symptoms such as headaches and general aches and pains. However, there are also some symptoms seen in summer SAD that are different to winter SAD.
People affected by winter seasonal affective disorder tend to gain weight and suffer from apathy and a general lack of energy. By contrast, summer seasonal affective disorder has the opposite affect: people suffering from summer SAD have too much energy and become almost manic. They often lose weight and spend their days rushing around. They might also have an increased sex drive and appear agitated and irritable.
In mild cases of summer seasonal affective disorder, the symptoms might not cause too many problems—people with summer SAD are often very productive and useful to have around—but if the manic behaviour begins to impact on normal everyday life, or your depression deteriorates to a level where you are having suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness, it is time to seek some professional advice.
What is the summer seasonal affective disorder treatment?
Unlike cases of winter seasonal affective disorder, exposure to extra light is not the answer. Instead the main treatment for summer seasonal affective disorder is a course of antidepressants combined with cognitive therapy to help the patient develop healthier ways of coping with their anxiety and depression.
Other ways of treating summer seasonal affective disorder include limiting exposure of hot temperatures and spending summer time in a cooler climate, and undertaking some regular exercise, although preferably not outdoors when the weather is hot. It is also important to get enough sleep as a lack of sleep can make the other symptoms a lot worse.