SAD Can Occur in the Summer Too
While many people bask in the beauty of summer’s long days, green leaves and colorful flowers, some who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, during the darkness of the winter months are also hit with depression during the warm season.
Understanding depression may be difficult, even unimaginable, for people who think summer means beach, swimming, barbecues, vacations and no school schedules. But some people who suffer from depression are upset by the beauty and brightness of summer.
Many Reasons behind Summer Depression
It often takes a personal story to understand summer depression, and yet each person’s experience with depression likely has multiple and complex causes.
In her personal experience of losing a two-day-old daughter to a fatal heart defect, Mary Cregan unfolds her tragic experience in a New York Times article, “I Had Completely Lost the Knack for Staying Alive.”
Sharing that dark time, she allows others to understand how summer flowers and sunshine do not protect us from the often incomprehensible and random shocks to the heart and soul, the uninvited burdens of life and death.
Cregan looks at her baby’s death, now 30 years in the past, with enough distance to understand her grief and depression.
“Unaware that I was gradually being engulfed in a severe depressive illness, I couldn’t understand how everyone else could be so busily engaged in their lives, productive, even happy, while I was paralyzed, obsessed with the meaningless of what had happened to my child,” said Cregan.
She slipped into the darkest place of all darkness.
“Suicide began to press itself into this list of potential solutions…Each day felt endless, with no sense of forward motion, no belief that I would ever feel better,” said Cregan. “Time was unbearable, time needed to stop. One morning I admitted aloud that it would be better if I were dead.”
Climbing Back into the Light
Cregan knew enough to seek professional help and went to a psychiatrist, but medication didn’t help. One day, she slit her wrists and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Then, still desperately depressed in the hospital, she tried to slit her throat.
Fortunately, Cregan was in a place where professionals were close by and saved her life.
Today, she says, she still struggles with depression but effectively manages it with medication and exercise. She has a job she likes, a happy marriage and a grown son, which have helped her regain her sense of joy in life.
“Now I look forward eagerly to the spring,” said Cregan. “It brings new pleasures by the week, asparagus in the farmers’ market, excitable toddlers in the playgrounds, and also a reminder to try to reach out to people who have lost someone recently, or those who seem withdrawn. They may need to be given a chance to talk about how they’re doing, and if things are very bad, encouraged to get the professional support they need. I can confirm that with time, help and love, things get better.”
Difference between Summer and Winter Depression
Depression is complex, but some studies have shown that the symptoms of summer and winter depression are actually opposite.
Those who are depressed in winter often gain weight, sleep more than usual and still feel sluggish.
Signs of summer depression include loss of appetite, weight loss, anxiety and insomnia.
Depression can seem especially painful in the summer when other people seem to be having a great time.
How to Keep Positive in the Shadow of Summer Depression
- Reach out to others who may be feeling less than joyful or visit those who may be lonely, such as elderly neighbors.
- Spend time in activities that are meaningful to you, perhaps catching up with friends, adopting a pet, or volunteering for an activity like a community garden, where the health benefits can come as fresh vegetables and a brighter outlook on life.
- Don’t expect summer to be perfect like a romantic beachside movie. LIfe continues in summer, with all its trials and tribulations, as well as joys.
- Spend time with friends, family or coworkers. Avoid isolation. Take part in community activities, as much as possible.
- Seek help from a therapist if the “blues” don’t lift and you can’t shake off your sadness or sense of hopelessness.
National Suicide Prevention Life Line
If you or someone you love is at risk for suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Life Line at 800-273-8255.
Cregan, Mary, “Depression Can Deepen with Warm Weather and Flowers,” New York Times, May 18, 2019
Handwerk, Brian, “People Get Seasonal Depression in the Summer, Too,” June 22, 2015, Smithsonian.com
Wehr, T.A., “Contrasts between Symptoms of Summer Depression and Winter Depression,” Journal of Affective Disorders, December 1991