Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Affect You in the Summer Too

Light coming through window shades.
Even the sunniest months can trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms for some people. Tim Parker/Getty Images
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is often correlated with winter months, but it can also occur in the summertime.
  • Symptoms of summer SAD may differ from symptoms of winter SAD.
  • Treatments and lifestyle strategies can help people cope with symptoms of summer SAD.

While summertime is often thought of as cheerful and bright with the ability to uplift people’s moods, the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can still occur during the sunniest months.

SAD is a mood disorder in which depression occurs at the same time every year. The condition is most connected to times of year like winter when there is less sunlight. The term is used by the general public to describe the clinical term Major Depression with a Seasonal Pattern (MDSP), said Deborah Serani, PsyD, author of Living with Depression and professor at Adelphi University in New York.

“Sometimes summer seasonal affective disorder is called reverse SAD, because most individuals experience SAD in the winter months,” Serani told Healthline. “It’s long known that seasonal patterns are frequently responsible for mental health issues, and more research is being done to understand the brain’s involvement in seasonal weather change.”

For instance, a 2023 study found that sunlight and the body clock or circadian rhythm can be disrupted during seasonal shifts, which interfere with neurochemistry like serotonin that worsens depression symptoms.

Serani said that sunlight is also required for the production of melatonin, and having too little melatonin (summer SAD) or too much melatonin (winter SAD) can cause mood changes, sleeping problems, irritability, sadness, and other SAD symptoms.

Additionally, Steve Miccio, CEO of the mental health organization People USA, noted that research shows too much sunlight, excessive heat and humidity, and personal views of body image can contribute to depression.

An investigation published in an article in JAMA Psychiatry found that emergency department (ED) visits were eight percent higher on hot days compared to cooler days during the summer and that there was an association between elevated ambient temperature and ED visits for any mental health condition and for specific mental health diagnoses. The authors noted that they saw increases in rates for visits regarding stress, anxiety, schizophrenia, substance use disorder, mood disorders, self-harm, and more.

“There are bits of research that look into the effect of extreme heat and how it may escalate symptoms of depression, however the heat may only be a contributing factor. It’s evident that extreme heat can escalate agitation as well; however, there are too many human factors that need to be researched to show definitive proof that extreme heat is the main contributing factor when people are experiencing SAD,” Miccio told Healthline.

Additionally, Serani noted that climate change has been shown to be a significant risk factor for the onset of a variety of mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.

Symptoms of summer seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

While general symptoms of depression include irritability, sadness, mood changes, concentration difficulties, sleeping too much or too little, physical aches and pains, appetite changes, anxiety or restlessness, one study which looked at the differences between winter and summer SAD found that the symptoms differ.

While both types of SAD brought on sad moods and a reduction in feelings of pleasure, each had opposing symptoms. For instance:

With winter depression, people experienced increased appetite, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, and hypersomnia. They may also socially withdraw, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

With summer depression, people were more likely to experience decreased appetite and insomnia. They may also experience restlessness, agitation, anxiety, and episodes of violent behavior, according to the NIMH.

More research is needed to fully understand the differences and to understand summer SAD more thoroughly.

“It’s important to know that in order to make the criteria for SAD diagnosis, depressive symptoms must occur before the season begins and then move into full remission when the season ends. And they must re-occur for two consecutive years when the season starts again,” explained Serani.

While Mental Health America reports that in a given year, about 5 percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal depression, with the typical age of onset occurring between 20 and 30 years of age, there is not much data specifically for summer SAD.

Ways to combat summer SAD symptoms

Treatment for SAD includes the following. A qualified mental health professional can help you determine which is best for you.

  • Limiting exposure to natural daylight (no more than 13 hours per day)
  • staying cool with air conditioning, especially at night
  • Psychotherapy
  • Antidepressant medications

In addition to treatment, the following may help you manage symptoms of SAD.

Accept that summer SAD is a condition

Acknowledging that SAD can occur in the summertime, can eliminate the stigma around getting help.

“It will pass if you take action that can help lift you up,” said Miccio.

Stay cool

For summer SAD, Serani said most individuals report needing to soften the intensity of the summer from its heat, humidity, and overabundance of sunlight.

“Consider finding a quiet room and drawing the shades. Use a fan or if you have AC, crank it up to cool your body,” she said.

Be mindful of your sleep

While sleep is important, keep to a schedule so you don’t find yourself sleeping too much or too little.

“If you can take a nap to catch up on lost Zs, make sure they don’t interfere with your night time rest,” Serani said.

Move a little and eat a healthy diet

While getting motivated to exercise can be a difficult task when experiencing SAD, Miccio suggested making it routine to get outside once a day for a walk to help relieve symptoms. Going early in the morning or later at night when the sun isn’t as strong can help offset the heat.

“[Plus], even with a reduced appetite, try to eat healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables,” he said.

Mind your triggers

Maintaining well-being with any mental health disorder requires being mindful of your triggers.

“Understand how the seasonal patterns press on your daily functioning,” said Serani.

Tracking your feelings, emotions, and moods and what triggers them throughout the day is a good place to start.

Understand medication options

If you find it difficult to navigate changes in light and temperature, Serani said studies show that adding medication before the season begins and ending it shortly after can offer the needed neurochemistry for balance and to get through the season.

Try holistic approaches

Under the direction of a mental health professional, Serani said that managing mild SAD or seasonal patterns of depression can be done with:

  • Aromatherapy
  • Eating lean protein and complex carbs
  • Using binaural beat or theta music for sleep
  • Sound therapy to offset irritability
  • Other types of complementary therapies

Talk with a mental health professional

While talking with a trusted friend or family member can be healing, if you find yourself having difficulty coping with the seasonal changes, contact a mental health therapist that specializes in mood disorders.

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