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Published on April 4th, 2016 | from CAMH

You’ve heard of the winter blues but what about summer depression?

By Dr. Katy Kamkar, Clinical Psychologist, Work, Stress and Health Program, CAMH
Initially published on CP24.com

Have you heard of Summer Depression?

When we hear of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), we tend to associate it with Winter Depression. SAD is a type of depression that tends to be affected by the time of the year, the light and the weather. The symptoms usually occur during the fall and/or early winter and they improve during spring and summer.

Typical symptoms of SAD (Winter Depression) include:

  • Sad and low mood
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Low energy
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Cravings especially for food high in carbohydrates
  • Increased sleep or hypersomnia
  • Isolation
  • Decreased interest in activities we used to enjoy

What is noteworthy is that some people experience the opposite pattern whereby the symptoms of depression begin in spring or summer. The symptoms can be mild and then progress and become more severe.

Although the cause of depression during summer is not yet known, possible contributing factors might include heat and humidity and longer days. Additional stressors occurring during summertime have also been observed such as:

  • Disruption in routine/schedule/habits due to vacation or children being out of school
  • Change in sleep and eating habits due to disruption in routine
  • Not being able to participate in some summer vacation or outdoor activities due to limited finances.
  • Health reasons preventing participation in summer activities which could lead to isolation and sadness and feeling of loneliness.
  •  Anxiety or avoiding participating in some outdoor summer activities due to concern about physical appearance.

Typical Symptoms of Summer Depression include:

  • Sad and low mood
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling agitated
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty sleeping and insomnia

While it is normal to experience mood fluctuations and some appetite and sleep changes, summer depression, however, is a more severe condition whereby the symptoms cause significant distress and/or interfere with our daily functioning such as work, school or personal life. Also if the symptoms become severe and intense, suicidal thoughts and significant disruption in our daily activities can occur.

Coping with Summer Depression

A number of treatments have been found helpful in the treatment of summer depression. Psychological treatment such as evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy has been found helpful.

So it is important to see a mental health professional and not suffer in silence, in particular if the symptoms cause significant distress or interference with your functioning, you feel hopeless or have suicidal ideation, or use increased alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or another substance to cope with your distress.

Early treatment is usually preferable to achieve a positive outcome and not prolong the suffering; at times summer depression might not resolve and turn into a more prolonged clinical depression by fall.

In addition to treatments, various other coping strategies could be implemented to adjust to the spring/summer change of seasons:

  • Avoiding social withdrawal and social isolation; staying active, going out and engaging in regular physical exercise; and keeping our regular daily activities are all very important.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and a regular eating schedule help our sleep and mood and energy level.
  • Maintaining proper sleep hygiene and sleep schedule
  • Learning from past spring and summer experiences in terms of what was helpful and what aspects of our life created stress and anxiety? Trying to problem solve the aspects of our life that led to distress in previous years. We might need to plan ahead and seek support for better problem solving.
  • Setting a financial budget ahead of spring to better plan activities/projects for the spring/summer.

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