Suffering From Summer Sad

Lana Del Rey has it right; “summertime sadness” is actually a thing.

There is such a thing as suffering from Summer SAD (also known as Reverse SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder) and it is experienced by millions of people, even if that is just 1% of the population. In fact, it is a form of seasonal depression experienced during winter months, but it has a summer variant, which is exactly what Lana is singing about.

“Both summer SAD and winter SAD people can experience the full range of symptoms of major depressive disorder – depressed mood, hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness and nihilism,” says Ian Cook, a professor of psychiatry and bioengineering and director of the UCLA Depression Research & Clinic Program. But whilst symptoms of depressive disorders usually include feeling lethargic and sleeping a lot, those afflicted with summer SAD will typically sleep and eat less than usual and feel agitated, anxious, and irritable, having constant mood swings.

Summertime sadness can also cause feelings of isolation, as almost everybody is on holiday. Similarly, people with bipolar disorder tend to have problems with being over-activate, irritable and angry in the summer, suppressed anger being key in those suffering hypomania, a less severe form of mania.

There is always massive pressure to have just as much fun as everybody else on our Instagram feeds, as well as trying to look as picture perfect as advertised bikini bodies on posters, and trying to budget throughout the very expensive summers. Plus, for many people being stripped of a routine and a busy lifestyle can leave them feeling confused and particularly uneasy, especially when boredom isn’t exactly a favourite companion and misery often loves company.

Anyhow, it is still mainly a mystery why some people feel miserable in the season of happiness and fun in the sun. There have been several different scientific speculations, including the possibility that the problem stems from high exposure to the sunshine or oppressive heat, as well as our birth month, allergies, and sleeping patterns also having an effect.


Thomas Wehr, a Scientist Emeritus at the National Institute of Mental Health and the man who first documented SAD, explains that some people are affected by summertime SAD because the oppressive heat makes them automatically highly irritable and harder to deal with.


Alfred Lewy, a Professor of Psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, believes that the higher probability of people staying up later at night in the summer can throw their body clock’s through a loop and, like winter SAD, cause depression linked to their physical state.

Birth month

Douglas McMahon, Vanderbilt’s Stevenson Chair in Biological Sciences, tested mice with depression born in different months – and therefore seasons – of the year. He undertook the Float Test: where scientists put mice into a pool of water and measure how much time they spend trying to escape rather than just floating passively. The theory holds that depressed mice will lose any hope of escape more quickly from the threat of the water, and simply float in despair. It was found that the winter-born mice were quicker to float helplessly.


The US National Library of Medicine published a study underlining that knowing aeroallergens produce inflammation in the respiratory airways, and inflammation triggers depression in vulnerable individuals, pollen could be a cause for Summertime SAD. Indeed, according to a sample of students self reporting their depression and allergic symptoms, this could have some merit.

Unfortunately, given the still unclear reasons behind this disorder, it is harder to find solutions to Summertime Sadness. The obvious ones would be to control sleeping patterns, effectively cure allergies as much as possible, avoid the heat and the excessive light, as well as keep busy, busy, busy.

For the more subtle, psychological traits triggering excessive anxiety, such as the fear of summers not meeting the expectations of our movie-like dreams, or the constant pressure to be bikini perfect, there is no stronger tool than self-control. Meditation and increasing our appreciation of what we have with mindful thinking, instead of getting whirl-pooled into a vicious cycle of negativity, can help.

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