Seasonal Affective Disorder can cause depression in summer as well as winter
August 12, 2003
Some people get down when the temperature goes up.
Depression, agitation and changes in sleeping and eating patterns that arise when warmer weather comes around is known as summer seasonal affective disorder. Although rare, summertime SAD has a debilitating effect on people’s lives.
SAD is a type of depression that follows the seasons, with wintertime SAD being perhaps the most common. Sometimes referred to as the “winter blues,” it is brought on by dark skies, cold weather and fewer hours of light.
But doctors are seeing patterns of depression during the hotter months, as well. Roughly two out of every 10 people who get the winter syndrome may also become depressed during the summer. The summertime version is brought on mainly by factors that are opposite to those that spark the wintertime ailment: increased heat, humidity and longer daylight hours, according to medical reports.
Symptoms of summer SAD include poor appetite, weight loss and insomnia.
Col. Susan Hendricks, psychological social worker consultant for Europe Regional Medical Command, said if a person’s mood takes a dip when the weather heats up, and there is a noticeable pattern of this type of mood swing for two years in a row, it’s important to see a doctor.
In winter SAD cases, research confirms biological changes within the brain in response to exposure to different levels of light. But while those with winter SAD can benefit from exposure to more light, people who have the summertime version of the blues do not always benefit from a reduced exposure to light.
Problem is, in the summer, many people simply can’t get settled down enough in the evening, while there’s still plenty of daylight, to get a good night’s sleep, and sleep deprivation is one of the main symptoms of summer mania, said Dr. Victoria Gardner Placker, a counselor and psychologist from Alaska, in a medical report. She said another contributor to summer SAD is the overabundance of adrenaline and other stimulatory hormones produced by the body when it is exposed to sunlight. The result is a lack of melatonin and other calming hormones that are stimulated by darkness.
But there is help available. There is an arsenal of weapons to fight mood disorders. These include counseling and medication.
“Though summer SAD is rare, symptoms could be devastating if not treated,” Hendricks said.
Anti-depressant drugs can be used to regulate the biochemical changes that affect mood, energy, sleep and appetite, Hendricks said.
Getting adequate sleep, taking time to relax, decreasing late-night hours of daylight, drinking and eating appropriately, taking melatonin supplements and napping during the day also help, according to Placker.
Hendricks said common triggers of depression could also be hereditary, as well as brought on by stress, and may not be associated with the seasons at all.
The best way to combat mild forms of depression include eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, Hendricks said.
Other ways to ward off the blues include keeping close-knit friends and family around, joining a club or starting a new interest, said Chaplain (Maj.) Dennis Proffitt, deputy chaplain for the 233rd Base Support Battalion.
“Especially while in Europe, people should cultivate a group of friends since they are so far away from family and loved ones,” he said, including being part of the chaplain family, regardless of specific faith.
He said chaplains are always available for friendship, counseling or support.