What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) represents the phenomenon that our moods change as the season changes. It is highly common for individuals to experience depressed moods during the winter months and pleasant moods during the summer months. This is due to the fact that winter has shorter days, less sunlight, and brittle weather. People are usually indoors to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures. On the other hand, summer represents fun, relaxation, and freedom from work obligations, so moods typically lighten during the summer months. Although this is true for most people, an estimated 30% of the population experiences Reverse-SAD. Reverse-SAD is also known as the “summer blues,” in which individuals become significantly depressed during summer. In this article, we will discuss some signs and symptoms of seasonal depression, triggers, and ways to help.
Signs and Symptoms
SAD and Reverse-SAD typically occur for short periods of time and only during particular seasons. SAD can last about 3-5 months and occur either when the weather is colder (i.e., SAD) or warmer (i.e., Reverse-SAD). Individuals experiencing SAD may experience the common depression symptoms, such as feeling depressed for most of the day almost every day, low energy/ fatigue, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, feeling hopeless or helpless, feeling sad or tearful, not feeling like your usual self, feeling lethargic. Individuals experiencing tend to report more agitation, anxiousness, restlessness, insomnia, lack of appetite/ weight loss, and violent behavior.
How to Help
Seasonal depression can be influenced by biological, environmental, or psychological factors. Individuals experiencing Reverse-SAD may be experiencing a difficult time adjusting to changes that occur in the summer. It can be stressful having to adjust to shorter or longer days. As the length of day and night changes between seasons, some individuals find it difficult to adapt their sleeping patterns and consequently experience low energy levels or fatigue. Additionally, heat and humidity may be intolerable to some people. Individuals may develop cabin fever, pause workout routines, and avoid cooking as they try to avoid the heat. Low energy levels, inactivity, and unhealthy eating habits are all major contributors to depression. Season depression may be due to adapting to scheduling changes. Experiencing scheduling changes such as children being home from school and requiring daily entertainment can be a major adjustment for parents. It is recommended that individuals develop and stick to a routine as much as possible during the summer and winter months. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) warns that women with a family history of mental illness may be at risk for SAD or Reverse-SAD. The NIMH also suggests that SAD and Reverse-SAD may be due to hormonal changes involving serotonin (i.e., adjusting your mood) and melatonin (i.e., adjusting your sleep).