Right Again, As Usual!
Sun and warm weather bring sadness and withdrawal for those with summer-onset depression
By Rosemary Black
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Thursday, July 23rd 2009
The same sunny skies that make summer a favorite month for so many people cause others to withdraw and become depressed.
Summer-onset depression, a warm weather variation of what’s called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, often starts in the spring and tapers off between September and November.
It’s a relatively new disorder. Dr. Alfred Lewy, director of the Sleep and Mood Disorders Laboratory at Oregon Health and Science University, said the first real studies to see if a summer version of SAD exists were conducted in 1991, according to ABC News.
That research showed that sufferers tended to experience different symptoms than their cold weather SAD counterparts.
“In people with summer depression, you see a decreased appetite and insomnia; with winter depression, you get an increased appetite and increased sleep,” Lewy told ABC News.
It’s nowhere near as common as the winter version of seasonal depression, says Richard Shadick, Ph.D., psychology professor and director of the Counseling Center at Pace University.
“It tends to have a late spring onset, and folks tend to suffer through the hot summer months,” he says. “Summer’s very nice for many people, but some people hate oppressive heat. They are very sensitive to heat and they get headaches because of the bright light.”
Psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert says he starts seeing patients for summer-onset depression in late spring as people begin to dread the long hot summer. Sleep difficulties, weight loss, irritability and a lack of interest in activities are common, he says.
“The contrast to the summertime norm of people being outside and enjoying activities only highlights the symptoms,” he says. “There is an obvious physical connection to this disorder as the heat leads to exhaustion and lethargy.”
The most effective treatment, Shadick says, is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. It also helps to eat right, connect with friends and stick to an exercise regimen, he says.
Alpert advises sufferers to stick to a schedule, get up on time and follow a to-do list.
And, he says, plan a midsummer trip to somewhere cooler, such as Canada or Northern Maine.
“This gives the person something to look forward to and breaks up what is often seen as a long, endless, hot summer,” Alpert says.
As more is known about summer-onset depression, other treatments may be available, Lewy tells ABC News. Lewy is investigating whether treating patients with melatonin could be effective at relieving symptoms.
Another option? Goggles - and not just underwater.
“Summer depression may eventually be treated with dark or orange goggles that block out blue light,” Lewy told ABC News.
Or a sure cure? Hang on til next winter, complete with ice storms, blizzards and subzero wind-chill factors.