If you or someone you love has experienced significant shifts in mood during the winter months, you are likely familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Aptly named, SAD is a type of depression—sometimes referred to more colloquially as seasonal depression. SAD bears many of the hallmarks of major depressive disorder, as well as some additional symptoms, and follows a regular seasonal schedule lasting 4-5months. Low energy, sluggishness, loss of interest in activities, oversleeping, and overeating are just a few of the symptoms that can hit those affected by SAD in the fall and last until spring or summer. While many people are familiar with SAD as a wintery depression associated with darker days and colder weather, winter is not the only season in which SAD can strike. In fact, SAD is loosely divided into two types: winter-pattern and summer-pattern.
For the estimated one in ten people with SAD who fall into the summer-pattern type, longer days and hotter temperatures can feel like more of a curse than a seasonal blessing. Alongside symptoms of major depression, summer-pattern SAD can show up as restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, and a lack of appetite during the summer months. Summer-pattern SAD can also be incredibly isolating; unlike winter-pattern SAD, fewer people experience it, and the overwhelming narrative of summer as a fun, joyful time can directly contradict the experiences of those who are suffering through it.
Little is known about why SAD strikes differently for different people. Some studies connect summer-pattern SAD to allergies, heat and humidity, or excessive exposure to light. A 2015 study even discovered connections between the season in which mice are born and their relative vulnerability to mood issues, although whether this correlation exists in humans has not yet been established. Regardless of cause, the fact remains that summertime SAD very much exists and poses unique challenges for treatment. While light therapy is commonly used and effective for winter-pattern SAD, increased exposure to light is not beneficial for those experiencing SAD in the summer. Instead, room-darkening shades and blackout curtains, air conditioning and dehumidifiers, allergy medication, and appropriate therapy may be more helpful options to alleviate symptoms.
If you’ve noticed a consistent shift in your summertime mood over the years, as well as any of the symptoms listed above, consider talking to your doctor about summer-pattern SAD. When it comes to summertime sadness, you are far from alone.