Yes, You Can Suffer from SAD In the Summer

Almost everyone is familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is related to the seasons. But most don't realize that 10 percent of SAD sufferers identify the warmer months—not winter—as their trigger.

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Aug 4 2017, 2:13pm

Photo by Simone Becchetti via Stocksy

The summer of 2013 was a scorcher. After a brutal winter that dragged on into almost May, temperatures in London rarely dipped below 77 degrees for weeks on end.

The tabloids ran pictures of scantily clad teenage girls sunbathing on various commons and in Brixton, where I lived, the sound of reggae music and the smell of BBQ was everywhere.
People seemed happy in a way only British people deprived of sunshine can.

But I wasn't. I had a precarious freelance gig and a precarious relationship. Virtually overnight, both of them had vanished. I'd experienced depression on and off for most of my life; I'd also experienced the unique pain of being cast aside romantically. I even knew that one often led to the other. But this was different.

As the summer wore on, instead of slowly feeling better, I felt worse. The humidity was oppressive and made me short of breath, exacerbating the tight feeling in my chest from my anxiety. The nights stayed light till late, making days that were difficult enough to get through seem to stretch on forever.


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Disappearing under my duvet just wasn't an option—it was too hot and too loud outside. I sat catatonic at BBQs and picnics with people clearly wondering what could be making me so miserable when the weather was so glorious. By August I was so unwell that I had a panic attack on the stuffy Circle line at 7 AM.

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Summer eventually gave over into crisper days and darker evenings, and I slowly felt more like my normal self. I'm not the only one who now dreads summer. Almost everyone is familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is related to the seasons. But according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness in the US, 10 percent of SAD sufferers identify the warmer months—not winter—as their trigger. Figures for the UK are more elusive, but anecdotal evidence suggests a similar picture.

Jayne Hardy is the CEO of the Blurt Foundation, an online support network for depression. She says that the organization certainly sees plenty of people suffering during summer. "Members of our community have reported that they often struggle during the summer months. The heat can be problematic as it disrupts our sleep and eating, and wearing fewer clothes brings up body image issues."

Katerina Georgiou, a counsellor who sees patients in London tells me it is not uncommon to see people particularly unhappy in summer. She believes the pressure to be fun and social is the culprit. "In the winter months, there is an expectation that it is dark and everyone is low. Come summer everyone is out and about and the sunshine can often remind someone they are not feeling sunny themselves."

This certainly makes sense—acting miserable in winter is a national sport in the UK and it can be hard to tell who might actually be having a difficult time and who is just fed up of January.

But is there also a more scientific explanation? Winter SAD has been linked to the direct effect of a lack of sunlight, but some experts also believe you can have too much of a good thing, too. Georgetown University psychiatrist and professor Norman Rosenthal—the man who first discovered SAD—believes too much sunlight may cause spikes in melatonin production and disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythms, making it feasible that people can feel out of sorts in particularly nice weather.

According to research, symptoms also differ between summer and winter SAD—those who feel down in the warmer months tend to experience insomnia and decreased appetite, while the reverse was true for conventional SAD sufferers.

This would certainly support Katie*s experience of summer depression. After moving to the far North East of Scotland for a job, the 32-year-old says she suffered a mental health crisis. "I think a lot of people thought it was the transition, uprooting my life and moving somewhere new that triggered my depression and who knows, maybe it was. But I really felt like something about the light nights was affecting me. It felt like something was wrong with my pattern and my body and it made me feel constantly anxious and ill at ease."

Winter SAD has been the subject of countless studies and articles, but reverse SAD isn't getting much attention. Many people I spoke to were relieved to hear such a thing exists and that they weren't strange for hating the summer months. Clearly, there may be far more people struggling in the great British summer time than we realize.

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Jayne Hardy is the CEO of the Blurt Foundation, an online support network for depression. She says that the organization certainly sees plenty of people suffering during summer. "Members of our community have reported that they often struggle during the summer months. The heat can be problematic as it disrupts our sleep and eating, and wearing fewer clothes brings up body image issues."

As heat has also been linked to reverse SAD, experts suggest that sufferers take all the usual precautions to keep cool during the summer, including staying hydrated and taking cold showers.

But perhaps more importantly, the Blurt Foundation also recommends avoiding the "shoulds" that creep up on us—like feeling like we should be outside having fun. On summer self-care, they're very clear: "We're not wasting the day or wasting the weather. We're looking after ourselves (and the sun will shine another day)."

So as we head into the last few weeks of another disappointing British summer, I'll join in with the national moaning. But secretly I'll be looking forward to autumn, and I bet I'm not the only one.