Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Summer Blues

I was going to write about light therapy today, but in response to yesterday's post both Jazz and Tamara wrote that they feel worse in the summer. According to Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder, "Studies indicate that most people in the northern United States dislike winter more than summer. When you look as far south as Florida, however, the pattern is reversed and more people dislike the summer.

"In our NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) survey of seasonal changes in Maryland, we found about five cases of winter SAD to one case of summer SAD. While winter difficulties are more prominent in the United States and Europe, in Japan and China more people are having trouble in summer than in winter."

Dr. Rosenthal states that he and Dr. Thomas Wehr studied some people with summer SAD. Dr. Wehr postulated that "the heat of the summer might be triggering a particular patient's depressions and that the cool air and her swims in the cold, spring-fed lakes of the North might have exerted a therapeutic influence on her moods (in the fall). He suggested that temperature changes have been suggested as a cause for depression since Aristotle."

Dr. Rosenthal also mentioned that some Australian researchers had found a difference between summer SAD and winter SAD. "Whereas the patients with winter SAD feel physically slowed down by depressions, those with summer SAD are more agitated."

"Summer depressives frequently ascribe their symptoms to severe heat while winter depressives more often attribute their symptoms to lack of light."

My feeling is that there remains a tremendous amount that is unknown about SAD. A lot of the information seems to be anecdotal. Dr. Rosenthal says that while there is a very active SAD organization for consumers in England, there isn't one in the United States. (At least there wasn't one in 2006, which is when the book was published.)

Tomorrow, I will write about light therapy.


Jazz said...

That's interesting, because I have always felt that it is the heat in the summer rather than the light that bothers me. And yes, it is more like agitation and irritability than it is depression.

Wellness Writer said...

It is interesting, isn't it? I used to feel agitated and irritable during the summer when my son was younger.

But now, I attribute that to situational stress. Since he wasn't a "camp kid," and since all of his friends were programmed up the kazoo, and since he doesn't like outdoors activities like I do, it was difficult to entertain him during the summers.

When I was a kid, all my mother had to do was to take us to the beach, and we spent hours playing outside or swimming. But it used to make me crazy that my son wanted to stay inside and play video games.


Tamara said...


Nice to know it is a real thing and I am not just weird. I am really tired of all my friends and family thinking I am loony for disliking summer.

It is interesting, too, that I grew up in Texas and just spent 8 years in Maui before moving back to a cooler climate. I couldn't take the heat anymore. But, I don't much care for the long days either. Not sure if this is a true dislike for the light or if it is just sun means heat.

Yes, I respond with more agitation and irritability. But, I also get depressed because I just feel crappy with no energy when it is hot out.

Thanks for moving this post to today.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
What I find interesting is that no matter what we feel, others seem to have problems with it.

It would seem to me that it's okay for you to dislike the summer --whether you have SAD or not. It's okay for me to have problems with the fall, despite living in Los Angeles, where weather wouldn't seem to be much of a problem.

The older I get, the more I feel it's okay for me--and for everyone else--to feel however we feel as long as we're not a burden to others.


Jazz said...

I agree there may well be a situational element to my summer irritability. As someone who needs a certain amount of solitude, I find summers with the children home all day particularly draining. I have noticed that as they get older and are better able to entertain themselves, that the summers are not quite so bad.

But I still hate the hot weather! I love fall and winter...even here in Minnesota.

Jazz said...

Oh, and you said it, Susan, when you wrote: "it's okay for me--and for everyone else--to feel however we feel as long as we're not a burden to others."

I wish my father would get over the idea that he is personally responsible for me being happy and joyful every minute I spend in his presence, and stop taking it as a personal insult if I should be the least bit melancholy. It would certainly make family gatherings less stressful!

P.J. said...

Whether it's SAD or not, as our lives change how we feel and what we associate with different seasons change. I LOVE fall, I always have. I love everything about it. This year, however, I thoroughly enjoyed summer and would darn neer deem that my favorite season. This fall finds me mourning the kids going back to school, the starting up of programs, and the knowledge that snow is just around the corner.

I just think that seasons affect everyone differently. Some are able to tolerate and enjoy the heat, while others are able to tolerate and enjoy the cold.

And, the things that have happened in your life up to this point affects how the changes affect you.

That's my 2 cents.

P.S. In case it sounds like I am dissing SAD, I'm not. I just think that some feelings have to do with life!!

Wellness Writer said...

I think that sometimes things may be a combination of different elements. I, too, used to miss the solitude of having my own space during the summer--even if it was just when my son was in school.

But now that I'm feeling fine (he was home all summer--albeit working at night), the lack of privacy didn't affect my mood.

Of course, my son is older now so I'm not tethered to the house when he's home nor am I responsible for entertaining him.

In terms of the weather, there is never extreme heat here nor mugginess, both of which would be difficult for me.


Wellness Writer said...

A few years after I became really sick, I had to talk to my mother about a similar problem. When she called me and I felt depressed, it would make her feel bad.

So, I finally said, "Mom, I can't feel responsible for my depressions making you feel sad. When you tell me that, it makes me feel worse. So, when I'm depressed maybe it's better for you to call me much later in the day because that's when I feel better."

She was okay with it.

P.S. But I know what you mean!

Wellness Writer said...

I agree that life affects our moods as well. And some people who live in places where there are truly seasonal differences may love the fall colors, the crisp air, or cold weather activities, while others may love the heat, and a host of summer outdoor activities.

But SAD is really quite different. Like a depressive episode that comes out of nowhere, with SAD, from one day to the next everything can change despite feeling happy and content with life.


Catatonic Kid said...


Wow, that's fascinating. I hadn't really paid it much mind before but now I think I'll keep an eye on whether my mood matches with the season/change of season. That'd be interesting. Perhaps it has to do with transitions, too?

I mean, people with Depression often have trouble with times of change, of any kind. And the seasons always do so perhaps it's partially the change of state in reality triggers the internal one too?

Maybe it could even be a signal for us to try and stay more in touch with nature and our bodies in nature? Because that might help us to be grounded and make it a positive change.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear CK,
Yes, it could be about transitions, but in Los Angeles, there really aren't any. The weather change is fairly slight. What's different is the quality of light, which is still significant to me.

But, yes I do think we need to be in touch with nature. Many of the book on holistic eating suggest that we truly shouldn't be eating foods that don't grow in the geographic area in which we live--and perhaps that's because our bodies are more tuned into nature than our minds.

But that's a whole other subject.