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Blue Summer: Summer-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Most people have heard of seasonal affective disorder, commonly referred to as SAD. If you have never lived in a place where there is a distinct winter season, you may think of the disorder as something difficult to understand, but the truth is that about 4-6% of people suffer from wintertime depression. Still, after a quick bit of research, you'll realize that it makes perfect sense for people to feel blue as the sun disappears and days get shorter causing vitamin D deficiency and making it harder to get motivated for exercise and outdoor activities. With cursory research, the disorder becomes easier to understand. But what about Summer-onset SAD? It is much harder for many people to comprehend. As the days grow warmer and longer and thee are endless opportunities to engage in fun outdoor activities. You may wonder how summer could make someone sad.

What is summer-onset SAD? 

Depression brought on by seasonal changes. Summer-onset SAD is less common and is likely caused by the difference in the amount of daylight. One theory is that the circadian rhythms of those affected impacted by the longer days and changes in sleep schedule, causing them to feel out of sorts. In addition, there is a much greater risk of sleep deprivation as the days get longer and it feels natural to stay up later. These factors could lead to low levels of melatonin which plays an important in sleep. Unlike its wintertime companion that makes people feel lethargic and crave carbohydrates, summer-onset SAD leaves people feeling jittery, agitated, or manic. Constant low-grade insomnia is always present.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

  • Feeling depressed, hopeless, guilty
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Increased sex drive
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite/losing weight
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

Other factors that may contribute to Summer-onset SAD are:

  • Constant activity and longer days leave some people feeling wired. This need to be ready for fun activities at any time of day leave people unable to get adequate sleep or relax. Busy schedules with no downtime or opportunities to decompress can take a toll on even the most active and extroverted person. 
  • The gap between expectation and reality can lead to feelings of sadness. Summer is full of many fun social activities and vacations. When these don't go as planned, it can be very disappointing. Additionally, the gap between what you think is the reality for others (perceived reality) based on social media and actual reality can make people feel as if they are not enjoying summer enough and add extra pressure. Social media has this effect year-round, but if you are already feeling bad about a disappointing vacation you may be more susceptible to comparing your life to the Instagram lives of others. 
  • Financial worries brought on by expensive vacations, frequent activities, and the need for new warm weather clothing can cause a lot of strain. 
  • Body image issues are present year-round but are exacerbated by the revealing clothing often worn in the summer. 

While light therapy is a great way to combat winter SAD, many of the treatments for summer-onset SAD are merely a matter of setting up healthy routines for yourself. Make sure to get sufficient rest, iPhones are now equipped with a Bedtime feature that can help you stick with a healthy bedtime routine and make sure you are sleeping long enough. There are similar apps for other devices. Also, be sure to allow yourself adequate rest and downtime. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to treat summer-onset SAD. These are typically accompanied by psychotherapy and the introduction of coping strategies and healthy self-talk,

Depression is the world's leading cause of disability, according to world health experts approximately 800,000 people commit suicide annually. If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support. If you are in crisis and need help, call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about, and all calls are confidential. You can also visit the Lifeline’s website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed, I am available to help develop coping strategies that will put you on the path to feeling better. Formerly on staff at the Tulane University Student Health Center Department of Psychiatry, helping emerging adults uncover the best path to success is my passion, I am a professional psychotherapist, and also specialize in academic, success, and life coaching. I work primarily with college students and young professionals. I would love to put my expertise as a certified success coach to work for you.

Dr. Eileen Wynne

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