Seasonal Affective Disorder Happens In Summer, Too

By Debra Kelly on Friday, December 18, 2015
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“In winter I get up at night, / And dress by yellow candle-light. / In summer quite the other way / I have to go to bed by day.” —Robert Louis Stevenson, “In Winter I get up at Night”

In A Nutshell

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is something that we mainly associate with the long winter months and the lack of sunshine. Those long, dark days can make us feel depressed and irritable and leave us with no energy whatsoever. In some cases, it’s so severe it’s treated with medication. Even though it’s usually associated with the time of the year when the Sun only makes short appearances and the nights are longer than the days, it can happen to people in the summer, too. The symptoms are somewhat similar, with both suffering from depression while the winter version is associated with sleeping too much and the summer version with sleeping too little.

The Whole Bushel

For many people, the long winter months do more than just drag on—they drag a person down. Sufferers of seasonal affective disorder face a whole series of problems throughout the winter. Depression is a major part of it, so bad that SAD is considered a subtype of major depression. There’s also a complete lack of energy, a need to sleep the days away, a difficulty in concentrating, a feeling of heaviness, difficulty getting along with or being around others, and weight gain. Some people even experience frequent thoughts about death.

For the most part, it’s thought that those that suffer from SAD in the winter develop these problems because of the body’s difficulty in adjusting its internal clock to the reduced daylight hours. It’s also thought that the levels of serotonin and melatonin in the body might have something to do with it as well, so it would appear that it only happens to people in the winter.

That’s not always the case, though. About one-tenth of SAD sufferers find their low point is in the long, hot days of summer.

For these people, it’s the dark days of winter that leaves them feeling their best. When summer starts to come around, they find themselves suffering from a reverse (but no less debilitating) version of SAD.

Spring and summer SAD is associated with the same depression that strikes winter sufferers, but it’s also characterized by insomnia, a loss of appetite, and anxiety. While winter sufferers tend to feel sluggish and tired all the time, summer sufferers often find themselves going in the opposite, manic direction. For those that have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the two different types of SAD send their symptoms in two opposite directions.

It’s estimated that about 5 percent of Americans suffer from the summertime version of SAD, and it’s highly possible that some don’t even realize it. Most of the research and media attention on the disorder is focused on the more common wintertime version. The summer version is also more common in areas that have warmer weather; the southern US has a higher rate than the north, for instance.

Summertime SAD is so overlooked that we aren’t even really sure how we should treat it effectively. Those with wintertime SAD often find relief with light box therapy, where they’re exposed to some of the daylight they’re missing during the long, cold months. But summer sufferers point to the extended daylight and sunlight hours as one of the main sources of their distress, making the relationship between the two incredibly cloudy. Most of the treatment for summer SAD is staying indoors, turning on the air conditioning, and closing off the house from the brightness of the outdoors, but it doesn’t seem to provide most people much relief. What little it does provide disappears as soon as people go outside, back into the blinding light and oppressive heat that’s just as intrusive as the seemingly perpetual darkness and endless nights of the winter.

Show Me The Proof

Mayo Clinic: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Psychology Today: Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD in the Summer
The Atlantic: When Summer Is Depressing
New York Magazine: Some People Get SAD in the Summer