Glum in the sun: Why you may be sad in summer

Feeling less than peachy now that summer’s upon us? There could be a reason for that.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also referred to as major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, is generally associated with the onset of winter – but for some people it can occur in reverse.

“Most often SAD is referred to as a winter condition, but it can effect in any season,” says Queensland-based psychologist Dr Joann Lukins.

According to US researchers, of the 4 to 6 per cent of the US population who experience winter SAD, around 10 per cent get it in the reverse. And other studies have shown in countries closer to the equator such as India summer SAD is more common than winter SAD.

What causes SAD?

Dr Lukins says SAD and “reverse SAD’ (summer depression) is difficult to diagnose and tends to be rare.

This sentiment is echoed by Dan Auerbach, a Sydney-based psychotherapist.

“It’s difficult to isolate what it is about seasonality that has an impact on some people’s level of depression,” he says.

Climate can affect mood, however, so just as cold weather can make us feel gloomy, hot weather has its own impacts.

A recent Swedish study found a link between increased vulnerability of mental health and heatwaves.

The authors found hot weather may be a triggering factor for changes in central neurophysiological signalling, and may also disrupt sleep which may potentially further increase the vulnerability of mental health patients.

“Extremely hot and humid weather has been shown to be linked to an increase in depression, and also there is a correlation with allergies for others,” Dan says.

A US study found mood can worsen due to high pollen count and be a factor of “non-winter SAD”.

While summer can be a time of increased joy and connection with family and friends for many people, Dan suggests it can be triggering for others.

“Some people start to feel really isolated in summer,” Dan says.

“It can be thought of as a time of happiness, ease and fun, and if you’re not feeling very connected to friends or family it can really increase your sense of isolation.

“If you’re concerned that your mood is changing with the season, it’s a good idea to try and identify what else is different in your life now compared to when you felt better, or whether something about this time of year is triggering for you emotionally,” he says.

Symptoms of summer depression

“SAD in summer might be demonstrated by trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, a loss of weight and feelings of agitation and anxiety,” Dr Lukins says.

“Physiologically it might be that changes to the individual’s body clock (or circadian rhythms) might contribute to the condition.”

Where to go for help with seasonal affective disorder

You might not be sure if your feelings of depression are season-dependent or not, but if your symptoms aren’t shifting, seek advice from your doctor.

“Often it can help to speak with someone you trust and if you really do feel depressed, professional therapy is a proven way to get some help and relief,” says Dan.

“Most importantly, don’t wait too long to ask for help.”

For more information, visit Beyond Blue.

Written by Samantha Allemann.