Spring’s arrival puts most people in a pleasant mood, but there are some who experience the opposite feeling. For those suffering from seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the longer days and warmer weather in the spring can actually send their bodies and emotions into a tailspin.
In general, as the seasons change, so do our behavior, energy levels, desire to socialize, and sometimes sleeping patterns. And often, the term "seasonal affective disorder" is inaccurately used to describe the normal winter blahs and lower energy levels most people feel in the fall and winter.
Those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder don’t just have a case of the blues, but instead find it difficult to cope and get out of their depression on their own. There are differences between the winter- and summer-related forms of the disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of winter depression include loss of energy, oversleeping, and weight gain – as a result of food cravings. Summer depression symptoms, however, include anxiety, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
Spring- and summer-based depression can be particularly troublesome because while most people are enjoying the increased amount of sunlight and higher temperatures, those suffering from it are feeling overwhelmed.
“They feel like ‘everyone is happier when the spring rolls around, except for me,’” says Dr. Kathryn Klock-Powell, clinical coordinator in the Professional Counseling department at South University — Savannah, adding that studies have shown there are high risks for depression and suicidal thoughts during the spring and summer seasons.
They feel like 'everyone is happier when the spring rolls around, except for me.'
With seasonal affective disorder, there is not a specific diagnosis — it is considered major depression with seasonal patterns, Klock-Powell says.
“Major depression is awful because the person feels terrible, but still might come up with reasons not to seek help,” she says.
The exact cause of seasonal depression is not known, but many experts believe it may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which may be hereditary or caused by events in a person’s life.
“It may also have a lot to do with exposure to sunlight,” Klock-Powell offers.
She says there have been studies on seasonal affective disorder and its prevalence in different places around the world. Not surprisingly, studies have found the disorder is prevalent in daylight-lacking Alaska, but not in “Sunshine State” Florida.
“However, it was interesting that a study found that people in Iceland don’t get it,” Klock-Powell says, referencing a 2000 study that reported a low prevalence of seasonal affective disorder in the country which has long dark winters. “But, people in Iceland eat a lot of fish, which has vitamin D and there is a lot of vitamin D in sunlight.”
Although more light can brighten the moods of those with winter depression, a different type of treatment is necessary for people with spring and summer depression. Experts recommend that those attributing their symptoms to heat limit their exposure to the elements and find relief in cool and air-conditioned environments. A healthy diet and regular exercise may also help.
Klock-Powell advises those who have seasonal slumps lasting for long periods of time to seek professional therapy.
“It may be normal to have a couple bad days but when it lasts a few weeks, it’s time to talk to somebody,” she says.