Got that summertime sadness? You could have summer seasonal depression

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The summer season is marked by vacations, getaways, swimming, and fun outdoor adventures.

And yet, for some of us, summer sucks.

We’ve heard of people suffering from winter depression, but some people suffer from seasonal depression in the summer, says Dr. Norman Rosenthalpsychiatrist at Georgetown University School of Medicine and author of the book “Defeating SAD: A Guide to Health and Happiness in All Seasons.”

In 1984, Rosenthal was the first to describe and diagnose seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. He says he was inspired to study the connection between the seasons and depression after he moved to New York City from South Africa for his psychiatric residency and noticed that his mood was much lower in the winter.

“I come from South Africa, which is a very sunny country. I came to New York City and the winter, the darkness really got to me and I suffered every winter of my psychology residency,” says Rosenthal. “When I came to do research at the National Institute of Mental Health, I chose that area to study: the effects of light on mood, the effects of the seasons.”

Rosenthal and his colleagues published a survey in the newspaper asking people if they suffered from winter depression. While many responded that they felt more depressed in winter, one in 20 respondents said they suffered from the opposite problem: summer made them sad.

Both the winter and summer versions of SAD are characterized by a bad mood and a lack of interest in things that were previously enjoyed. But there are very important differences between the two, Rosenthal says.

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“Winter people are like bears in hibernation. They are slower. They sleep too much, they eat too much, they gain weight, they feel lethargic, unmotivated,” she states. “Summer types are full of energy, activated, irritable and have a higher risk of suicide because they are not sitting like the bear. “He is an agitated and depressed person, as most psychiatrists will tell you, he is not someone you want to mess with because it is a very dangerous state of mind.”

Five questions with Dr. Rosenthal

Why does summer depression carry a higher risk of suicide?

“If you think about dysphoric films, if you think about Scandinavian dysphoria, they reflect the sadness of short days. But a couple of my parents talked about feeling suicidal and just not having the energy, focus and organization to do anything about it, which was very fortunate in my opinion.

“Summer people, if you think about their dysphoria, are more like those movies where there’s a kind of frenetic energy that’s nervous and people are looking for ways to sedate themselves and they’re actually at greater risk of harming themselves in some way.” or other”. different from winter types.”

Why can sunlight make people feel more depressed?

“Well, sometimes they drive home and they feel like the light is coming at them and it’s almost like a personal insult, like something that goes through them in an unpleasant or really horrible way.

“Agitation is the best way to describe it because if you’re depressed and agitated, it’s very dangerous.”

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What can you do if you suffer from summer depression?

“You try to fix what’s causing the problem, so you can keep the blinds down. You could draw the curtains. You may keep your rooms dark, especially at the end of the day, you know, the light that comes on and on and doesn’t let you sleep. Likewise, if it’s the heat that bothers you, stay cool, turn on the air conditioning, take cold showers or baths.

“So I think the usual thing to do when fixing the things that are causing you problems is to somehow recognize that pattern and understand that what is inherent in the pattern is the cause of the problem and is the treatment of the problem.”

How effective are these non-medical interventions for summer depression?

“As a psychiatrist, I like to use all the tools at my disposal. I love trying to find non-medical ways to treat people. They just feel better. They feel more authentic. They generally have fewer side effects.

“But if medication is needed, I will not resist it, whether for myself or someone else. I think the goal is to help you feel good all year long. That’s the goal. And as I say in my book, there are many, many ways to do it and medications are certainly one of them. And there you have to involve a professional because different medications have different pros and cons, but I definitely wouldn’t exclude them if other simpler or less medical things don’t work.”

How might climate change affect mental health more broadly?

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“I think it is a very important question. I have been on vacation these last few weeks in Greece. We thought that if we got here at this time of year we would escape the worst of the summer and we probably have, but it has been incredibly hot. The Greeks I’ve been talking to don’t go out when it’s hot. They don’t go out in the midday sun. They have their nap. They hold on and then go out when the sun goes down and that is, in a way, very sensible.

“I was always saying: find out what’s wrong and then fix it. And I was speaking at the individual level, which is where we have the most control, but this applies to our home, the Earth. “We need to find out what we are doing wrong and how to fix it because that is where the key will be to help us with this global warming.”

Samantha Raphelson produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Raphelson also adapted it for the web.

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