Many people associate seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with the cold, dark, winter months. So, it may come as a surprise to you when your partner begins to experience depression during the summer. After all, summer is a time of vacations, warmer weather, and more hours of daylight, and those are good things, right?
Yes, that’s true. But summer also means changes in schedule (especially if your kids are out of school), heat intolerance for some, body image problems when pulling out bathing suits and shorts, and general feelings of not being “normal” when it seems like everyone else is happy this time of the year.
On top of that, if your partner seeks treatment for their depression, therapists and doctors often take summer vacations like everyone else, which can leave your partner without regular treatment, or with an unfamiliar provider who is offering coverage for your partner’s therapist.
What do you need to know about your partner’s summer depression?
- It is estimated that 5% of the population experiences wintertime SAD, but only 1% experience summer-onset SAD. As a result, mental health clinicians may miss this diagnosis, or attribute it to something else. Encourage your partner to advocate for herself to receive appropriate treatment.
- Since the number of people who are identified as having summer-onset SAD is low, it has been difficult to gather enough subjects to conduct studies on this disorder. It’s thought that summer-onset SAD is linked to either light or heat intolerance, but researchers are not sure. Your partner probably has a good idea if either or both are a problem, so encourage them to do what they need to minimize exposure. This may mean closing shades and curtains to block light, wearing sunglasses more frequently, keeping environments cool, and avoiding going outside during daylight hours.
- The symptoms of summer-onset SAD are often different from winter SAD. Summer SAD is associated with agitation, insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, and irritability. In general, winter-onset SAD makes people feel like they just want to go to bed and hibernate until the sun comes back; summer-onset SAD can result in people feeling as if the sun and heat are “piercing” them, and they can’t relax or enjoy anything.
- Body image concerns can be related to summer-onset depression as well. If your partner struggles with this, having to wear bathing suits or typically more revealing summer clothing can trigger negative feelings. Validating your partner’s discomfort, and encouraging them to wear clothing that makes them feel good can help.
- Changes in schedule can also wreak havoc for someone prone to depression. If your partner’s schedule changes in the summer because of seasonal work schedules or because the kids are out of school, creating a schedule can help. Your partner can write out a weekly calendar that outlines what needs to be done at what time every day. Also encourage your partner to stick to routine sleep and wake-up times, even if the alarm doesn’t need to go off quite as early as it does during the school year.
Find fellow Psych Central blogger Therese Borchard’s piece on summer depression here.