No school, a slower pace, sunny days and warm temperatures – what’s not to love? We think summer should be the happiest time of year, but for some, the season triggers sadness, lethargy, problems sleeping and other symptoms of depression.
While usually associated with the long, dark winter months, Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern (formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD) can happen in the summer too.
Seasonal MDD is characterized by recurring episodes of depression during certain times of the year. While its cause is not fully understood, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health believe the condition is linked to how sunlight impacts our circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, and the production of serotonin and melatonin hormones in the body. These influence our moods, sleep and other physical processes. Most cases of seasonal MDD occur during winter when days are shorter, nights are longer, and the cold keeps people indoors instead of outside, absorbing sunlight.
About 10% of those who are diagnosed with MDD with a Seasonal Pattern, suffer from depression during the summer, instead of the winter. This suggests that too much sunlight may also impact serotonin and melatonin levels in ways that trigger depression in certain people. During the summer, some scientists believe, environmental factors such as increased pollen, poorer air quality and excessive heat, may also play a role in causing seasonal depression.
Women and young people are most prone to develop seasonal MDD.
Does your child struggle with seasonal depression?
Beyond any biological explanations, we know that summer can be hard on a young person’s mental health. When school ends, kids experience a radical change in their regular routines. Many, suddenly have little structure in their days. The support systems and connections that are in place during the school year are frequently absent. They often don’t get enough regular sleep or aren’t engaging in activities that keep them physically active and ensure they’re socially connected.
Some adolescents and teens spend hours alone and on their screens. At the same time, their social media feeds are sending the message that they should be happy and that everyone else is tan and beautiful, on vacation, at parties and having a great experience. The pressure to live up to these expectations of summer, alone can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.
Certainly, there is a difference between summer blues and seasonal MDD. Pay attention. If you notice that your child’s mood and behaviors have changed significantly since the start of summer and have lasted for at least two weeks, they may be struggling with depression. If you detect a pattern where this happens every year around the same time, they may have Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Some other indicators to look out for in your child might include:
- Irritability, guilt, hopelessness and anxiety
- Loss of interest in activities
- Appearing tired throughout the day
- Sleeping more often than usual
- Trouble concentrating on important tasks
- Consistent headaches
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Suicidal ideation
If you see these signs, talk to them about it. As parents, you can help your child by:
- Supporting healthy routines. Set regular mealtimes at home, have them join you for a walk or some exercise a few times a week or have rules in place related to screen time.
- Encouraging good sleep. Agree on a bedtime and encourage them to stick to it. Wake them up at an agreed-upon time in the morning.
- Reaching out for help. If your child’s mood does not improve, consider reaching out to your physician or a mental health provider for an evaluation and treatment.
If you are concerned that someone you love may be considering suicide, help is available 24/7 through the National Suicide and Crisis lifeline by dialing 988. (This new, three-digit call line will be available throughout the United States on July 16, 2022. If it is not in your area yet, call 1-800-273-8255 for assistance.)