Summer for many is supposed to be carefree and fun with longer days and warm weather, but for some, it’s the complete opposite.
“It doesn’t seem natural to be depressed during the summer but it’s a real thing. It’s a real phenomenon,” said Susie Park, associate professor of clinical pharmacy at USC.
Park says seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as SAD, affects four percent to six percent of the population in the U.S.
While most experience the change in mood during the winter months, about one percent of the population is affected during the summer.
“With summer depression, it seems more counterintuitive because one assumes that when it’s bright and there is lots of light, one should be happy,” she explains.
Park said research has shown that for some, a disruption in routine can lead to summer depression with social and financial factors leading to a change in mood. Financial stresses associated with summer include paying for vacations, summer camps and babysitters for children, while just the change in temperature can be a single trigger to become withdrawn.
“One expects to have fun parties and barbecues and invite people over but you may not have the energy or the capability to do that and so that can also exacerbate depression,” Park says.
Warning signs of summer depression include anxiety, loss of appetite, weight loss and even insomnia.
“If you find that these are causing some degree of impairment in your ability to function in everyday activities or someone tells you ‘Oh, I’m noticing a change in your behavior and your mood seems different,’ ” she said.
A typical episode could happen anytime between June and September and last for several weeks or even longer.
Park says there are several coping mechanisms one can adopt, including limiting time outside, staying away from bright light, taking cool showers, exercising indoors and leaning on friends and family for social support.
“I think it’s important to disclose the symptoms that you’re experiencing and the changes in your behavior that you’re noticing so that you can tell others around you,” she said.
Park also says if you are prone to seasonal mood changes, you can prepare.
“If they know that it’s a financial situation that can lead to the onset of depressive symptoms, they can plan accordingly with financial reasoning,” she said. “Typically, I suppose if they’re very sensitive to the seasonal changes or an immediate, acute change in the seasons, the symptoms may not last long enough because eventually it’s going to turn into the next season.”
Park says sometimes coping mechanisms aren’t enough, and in those instances it’s best to contact a doctor to make sure something bigger isn’t happening.