Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is characterized by feelings of depression that start and end at the same time every year, in accordance with a change in seasons.
SAD is generally used to refer to depression that occurs during the cold, dark winter months. This is because the reduced exposure to sunlight and warmth can disrupt the body’s production of serotonin. It makes sense, then, why many people are affected by a depression that starts somewhat suddenly during the winter months and does not subside until spring.
So, does this mean everyone becomes jubilant during summer? Not exactly. Some people have what’s known as “reverse SAD”, but it’s far less common. Reverse SAD occurs when the change in seasons triggers a depression that starts in summer and subsides by late fall or winter.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this summertime depression affects less than one-tenth of all SAD cases. However, that number could be greater if people are underreporting their symptoms or clinicians who are not familiar with reverse SAD are not recognizing it in their patients.
If you experience summertime depression, read more about the symptoms and causes below to be well-informed about this topic.
What are the symptoms of Reverse SAD?
Reverse SAD manifest in similar ways to other types of depression. The differentiating factor is that this depression occurs in the summertime and ends by winter each year.
With that said, common symptoms of reverse SAD include:
- trouble falling asleep
- trouble staying asleep
- daytime fatigue
- lack of interest in usual activities
What causes Reverse SAD?
As mentioned previously, seasonal affective disorder is considered to be related to changes in light. “Regular” wintertime SAD is linked to a lack of sunlight, which impairs the body’s ability to produce serotonin.
Reverse SAD, on the other hand, occurs when an excess amount of light causes the body to overproduce melatonin. Too much of the hormone melatonin can affect a person’s circadian rhythm, causing the sleep-wake cycle to be inconsistent. Think of times when you have woken up in the middle of the night and walk into a brightly lit room, such as the bathroom or kitchen. Chances are that you have had more difficulty falling back asleep due to this sudden exposure to light.
Other things that can trigger summertime depression include:
- Changes in routine: prolonged summer vacations can cause a lack of structure and routine, a common trigger for depression.
- Travel: summer provide many opportunities to travel. However, many people experience anxiety related to the cost, planning and physical aspects of travel.
- Negative body-image: those who suffer with low self-esteem may feel anxious about wearing shorts or bathing suits, leading to self-criticism, social isolation and depression.
How is Reverse SAD treated?
There are a number of unique treatments for Reverse SAD. While it’s best to consult your healthcare provider to determine what will work best for you, here are some options to consider:
- Reducing exposure to light: people with reverse SAD symptoms can sometimes benefit from spending prolonged time in dark atmospheres, such as movie theaters.
- Avoiding excess heat: when summertime temperatures start to climb, air-conditioned rooms are ideal for people with reverse SAD.
- Practicing self-care and mindfulness
- Talk-therapy: a mental health clinician can provide support in managing depression, anxiety and distress.
Even if you are not experiencing reverse SAD, it is important to monitor changes in mood and energy. Remember to routinely practice self-care, sleep hygiene and healthy nutrition. If you believe you could benefit from understanding more about your symptoms or concerns, make an appointment with a mental health professional today.