Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may conjure up a rollercoaster of emotions as the seasons transition from sunny to gloomy and vice versa. Most SAD patients have a reprieve come the sunnier months as symptoms temporarily dissipate but some are left feeling uncomfortable as the sun shines.
Four to six percent of people in the United States have summer SAD, which occurs under the opposite conditions of its winter counterpart. During colder months, winter SAD patients may overeat, oversleep and present sensitivity to cold. During brighter days, those experiencing summer SAD present with opposing symptoms: decreased hunger, trouble sleeping and discomfort in hot weather.
Winter SAD patients may treat the condition with 30-minute light exposure sessions performed twice each day. Known as phototherapy, light box exposure has been known to ease depression symptoms at the cost of side effects including eye strain, insomnia and headaches.
Light boxes are an effective means of treatment because winter SAD is triggered by the disruption of healthy hypothalamus functions such as production of serotonin and melatonin along with the breakdown of circadian rhythms. Melatonin is essential for sleep. Serotonin also impacts slumber and contributes to mood and appetite.
Serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have also proven successful for some SAD patients of winter and summer variants.
Specifically treating summer SAD is tricky since scientists have yet to pinpoint the biological cause of the condition.
“In the 25 years since it was first described, SAD has been the subject of more than one thousand studies,” wrote Joseph Kasof, Ph.D, adjunct professor at Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology. “However, SAD researchers have narrowly focused on winter-SAD … very little was learned about summer SAD.”
So far, scientists propose patients with summer SAD stay inside, occupy darker environments and keep the air conditioning on full-blast. Unfortunately, the cold and dark treatments don’t seem to be as consistent for these patients when compared to the warm and bright environments created for winter SAD patients. In both cases of SAD, talk therapy is recommended for treatment.
Sovereign Health Group has mental health professionals ready to help patients with any kind of depression, including SAD of either variety. Therapists will help patients find coping strategies if light or dark therapies come up short. Call us to find a Sovereign Health Group provider near you or your loved one day or night, for a referral.
Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer