“It certainly deserves more research and should be more concerning,” said psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal of Georgetown University School of Medicine, who first described SAD in the scientific literature in 1984.
Symptoms of SAD in winter and summer seem to be different. Both are characterized by sadness and decreased pleasure, Rosenthal said, but winter depression patients tend to sleep too much, eat too much, and feel sluggish. “Summer was the opposite in many ways,” he says. “I’m not very hungry, I have a decreased appetite, I have insomnia.”
Higher risk of suicide in summer depression
Summer depression is also a more excitatory depression, with patients prone to: It feels more painful than lethargic like winter depression.
People with summer depression may be at increased risk of suicide. Suicidal behavior peaks in late spring and early summer, but declines in winter.
It may be because depressed patients who feel suicidal during the winter may not have the energy to carry out their plans, says Rosenthal, who wrote in her forthcoming book Overcoming SAD: Staying Healthy Through All Seasons. And A Guide To Happiness’ aims to improve your mood. – A brief previous understanding of SAD and practical strategies to combat it. Unfortunately, however, people with summer depression who are both sad and agitated may have more energy to hurt themselves.
Summer SAD is more heterogeneous and variable in nature, making it more difficult for researchers to study. Compared to winter SAD, which affects about 5 percent of Americans, In the last few decades since Rosenthal and his colleagues first reported summer affective disorder, there has not been much research on it.
In one study of 2,819 Danish subjects, approximately 0.1 percent met criteria for summer SAD. Experts said summer sadness appears to be rarer than winter depression, but should be recognized and treated by medical professionals.
“Recognize that not everything is in your head,” says Kelly Lohan, professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont. “It’s real.”
What Causes Summer Depression
Summer-specific environmental features such as heat, humidity, and pollen are thought to cause summer depression.
In one of the original studies, Rosenthal and his colleagues asked people what causes their summer sadness.
“They say it’s going to be hot all the time, otherwise you can’t stand the light,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve had people tell me they can’t stand the light because it feels like it’s cutting through me like a knife. And bright lights actually make me more manic.”
These various factors may contribute to the complex symptoms experienced by people with summer depression. Heat and humidity are uncomfortable, but summer sunshine can be negatively energizing.
Rising temperatures have also been associated with higher suicide rates in the United States and Mexico, and an increase in the use of depressing language in social media posts.
Pollen counts are high in spring and summer, and may cause summer depression. A 2019 study of 1,306 Old Order Amish found that people who generally feel sick in the summer felt sick on high pollen days. Allergies trigger immune responses and inflammatory processes, which can contribute to depression. Studies have found evidence that having allergies is associated with a higher chance of depression.
The hot, sticky weather and the threat of pollen allergy is probably uncomfortable for everyone. A study of 1.9 million Americans found that rising temperatures hurt mental health. Negative emotions and fatigue increased while positive emotions decreased when temperatures exceeded 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why some people are prone to summer depression is “a million-dollar question,” Lohan said.
These environmental stressors are having a negative impact on our internal environment, Rosenthal said. “We have homeostasis and self-regulation mechanisms,” he said. “But obviously some people don’t work as well as others.”
Some of the key neurotransmitters involved in regulating body temperature, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, also regulate our mood, Rohan said. “Perhaps it’s a matter of our common vulnerability to mood disorders and our ability to regulate body temperature on a regular basis in response to heat and humidity,” she says.
Climate change could exacerbate and spread summer depression
Researchers say summer SAD could become more prominent and prevalent in a warming world.
Lohan said she never received a call from the press about summer depression. There is now much more interest.
“Given global warming, I predict that the importance of SAD in the summertime is definitely increasing, and there is growing concern about increased exposure to heat and humidity that may trigger it,” Rohan said. said. “I strongly doubt there will be more incidents like this.”
Climate change is already destroying mental health.
Heatwaves exacerbated by climate change are associated with worsening mental health. Increased temperatures are associated with mental health emergency room visits, suicide, and self-reported mental health deterioration.
How to deal with summer SAD
If you feel depressed, especially in the summer, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and seek help from your doctor.
“People really need to realize that suicidal thoughts are more common,” says Rosenthal. “And if something like that happens, they should really go get help.”
Cooling may help, but no clinical trials have yet been conducted to test this method. Rosenthal and his colleagues advised patients with summer depression to take cold showers and stay in air-conditioned areas. This intuitive intervention seemed to work and the patient’s symptoms were relieved.
However, these effects persist as long as the patient remains cool. When his patients returned outside in the summer heat, the effects seemed to wear off.
Clinical trials have found light therapy to be effective with relatively few side effects in winter SAD. The effect also lasts.
“The effect of light seems to have an effect that lasts for several days,” Rosenthal said. However, cold therapy for summer depression “did not appear to have the inertia or persistence seen in phototherapy or winter depression.”
Summer depression is depression, and there are effective treatments for depression, Rohan said. Psychiatric drugs that work for major depression may also work for seasonal depression.
“One of the values of knowing when people are going to get depression is that we can anticipate it and prevent it to some degree,” said Rosenthal, who wrote a series of clinical trials for patients in the months leading up to the problem season. He added that antidepressants may be increased.
A combination of different treatments, including cooling strategies, medication, and evidence-based psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, may be the key to overcoming summer grief.
Have questions about human behavior or neuroscience? Email BrainMatters@washpost.com I may answer that in a future column.
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