Reverse SAD: Why the summer season could be triggering your depression

Warm weather and sunshine tends to bring joy and cheerfulness along with it, but that isn’t always the case for everyone. In fact, for those who suffer with reverse seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it brings quite the opposite.

As a depressive disorder related to changes in seasons, SAD is often associated with winter, which doesn’t come as a surprise: miserable weather, shorter days and constant darkness can no doubt affect someone’s mood. But in people with reverse SAD, it’s the bright, warm days that trigger a summer depression.

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What causes reverse SAD?

Known as reverse SAD or summer SAD, this form of the disorder is more common in countries that are located closer to the equator. Although the cause is still not yet known, experts suggest there may be several factors that could be causing depression in the spring and summer months, as Isabel Leming, Senior Technician at mental health clinic Smart TMS, explains:

Longer days

‘It is speculated that the onset of symptoms may be a result of the longer days, with a suggestion that the increase in heat and humidity might also play a role, but there is currently no evidence to support this,’ says Isabel. ‘In winter SAD reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression and the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. As these have been linked to winter SAD, serotonin and melatonin levels are also suggested to be factors in reverse SAD but this has not been confirmed as a cause.’

Feeling unbalanced

‘Along with the longer days and shorter nights, summer also brings a different mood than the other seasons, particularly as other people may be in higher spirits due to the warmer climes and more exposure to the sun,’ she explains. ‘If you have experienced depression, you may be more vulnerable to having a depressive episode. In addition, if you begin to feel a sense of imbalance and are not at the same level of happiness as others around you, you may begin to feel guilty and anxious for not sharing the same optimism. This could precipitate reverse SAD.’

Allergies

‘Some experts suggest that allergies may also play their role in impacting people’s moods. It is theorised that some allergens can cause inflammation in the airways and for vulnerable people, this could trigger depression. The increase of pollen (one of the most common allergens) in the spring and summer months could be what triggers the seasonal mood symptoms.’

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As for the physical and emotional symptoms, they tend to be quite mild to begin with but are known to become more severe as the summer season progresses. While winter SAD symptoms focus on low energy symptoms, reverse SAD symptoms are more centred on agitation and related to irritability. They include poor appetites, troubled sleep/insomnia, weight loss and anxiety.

How can I manage summer depression symptoms?

While there is currently no treatment for reverse SAD, Isabel says that the following tips might help…

Sleep in a darkened room:  As insomnia is one of the main symptoms of reverse SAD, blocking out as much sunlight when you are trying to sleep could be key to getting a good night’s sleep and letting your body clock know it’s time to sleep.

Get regular exercise: Exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): rTMS is a NICE approved treatment for depression that effectively modulates brain activity, leading to a reduction in symptoms.

If you or anyone you know is suffering with mental health issues and would like to speak to someone, visit mind.org.uk for more information.