When Summer Makes You SAD

Sad when it’s sunny? It may sound like an oxymoron, but for a small group of people, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) doesn’t strike during the dark days of winter — but during the dog days of summer.

In fact, reverse seasonal affective disorder affects less than one percent of the population, which is only about a tenth of overall SAD cases, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). But for people with summer depression, the symptoms are very real.

What Is Summer Depression?

Like winter-onset seasonal affective disorder, reverse seasonal affective disorder returns every year at about the same time (and disappears on schedule). While winter SAD is linked to a lack of sunlight, it is not clear if summer SAD is related to too much brightness. Some research suggests that the high temperatures might play a role.

But according to George Shannon, MD, a family practitioner in Columbus, Ga, reverse seasonal affective disorder is actually thought to be a form of bipolar disorder.

What Summer SAD Looks Like

Many reverse seasonal affective disorder symptoms are similar to those of seasonal affective disorder, save for the season when they appear. These symptoms include:

Like winter SAD, summer SAD also includes symptoms of depression: strong feelings of guilt and feelings of hopelessness. People with this type of seasonal depression also could experience physical symptoms such as headaches.

Summer SAD Vs. Winter SAD: What’s the Difference?

There are some differences, however. People with reverse or summer SAD may lose weight, whereas people with winter SAD may gain weight.

Also, people with reverse seasonal affective disorder tend to have lots of energy — whereas those with the winter-related disorder lack energy. “The hypomania person is very nice to have around because his or her energy level is high,” says Dr. Shannon. “The house is clean. The meals are cooked. The dog is walked. These are very productive individuals, but it can get to the point where the activity becomes counterproductive and it can be something that needs medical attention.”

Summer SAD: Treatments

Light treatments, which can be very effective for people with winter seasonal affective disorder, do not play a role in helping summer SAD. But counseling can help those with reverse seasonal affective disorder.

Typically, confirmed cases of reverse seasonal affective disorder are treated with antidepressants, Shannon says. “One thing that is important and beneficial in treating seasonal disorders is to get people to recognize early when their negative thoughts are starting to affect their ability to cope and to take their medications that their doctors have prescribed.”

Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by the seasons, but it isn’t limited to fall and winter. If you find you have symptoms of mania or depression every summer that go away in the fall, talk to your doctor about what you can do.

By Beth W. Orenstein