Summer Pattern Sad: Understanding Seasonal Depression In Young People

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It’s normal for young people to experience some mood and behavioural changes in winter and summer. Young people may cope with feelings of sadness during the colder, darker months, or find it harder to sleep in the summer.

However, when these changes significantly affect a young person’s daily life, it may be a sign of a mental health disorder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, where symptoms begin and end in a specific season each year.

SAD is more common in the winter months, when young people may experience low moods, trouble sleeping, and sugar cravings. However, it can also occur – much more rarely – during the spring and early summer.

This blog explores the symptoms of summer SAD and how they can affect the lives of young people. It also outlines some of the various treatments that can support teenagers and adolescents to recover from summer depression and enjoy the summer months.

How Common is Seasonal Affective Disorder in Young People?

Researchers think that seasonal affective disorder is more common in some places than others. There seem to be higher rates of SAD in countries that are further away from the equator and experience greater changes in the length of day and night as the seasons change. 

This means that it’s difficult to give a general estimate of the prevalence of SAD that is true for different countries. A study in Washington D.C., US, found that between 1.7% and 5.5% of young people may live with the condition. While this estimate may not apply elsewhere, it does tell us that, like adults, children and adolescents can be affected by this disorder and may require treatment and care.

Researchers have also found that seasonal affective disorder is more common in adolescence than in childhood. Some explanations have linked this to changes that happen during puberty, particularly hormonal changes. Studies have also found that adolescent girls are more likely to have SAD than boys.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Summer SAD?

Young people with summer pattern SAD can experience a variety of symptoms. This means that one young person with the disorder may feel and behave very differently from another. However, there are some common symptoms to look out for.

These include:

  • poor appetite
  • weight loss
  • insomnia 
  • agitation 
  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • in rare cases, episodes of violent behaviour

Among both young people and adults, the severity of summer SAD symptoms can vary drastically. Some people may experience milder mood and behavioural changes while others may find that they are unable to function at all. As with other forms of depression, severe forms of SAD can involve suicidal thoughts and ideations.

Whatever a young person’s experience with SAD, it’s important that they receive the care and support that they deserve. Seasonal depression is treatable and there are several different options available to teenagers and adolescents to manage symptoms and recover from the disorder. If you’re worried about a young person, you could have an open conversation about their feelings or contact a mental health professional for expert support.

What Causes Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes young people to experience summer pattern SAD. It’s likely that the hormones melatonin and serotonin play a role, affecting a person’s daily circadian rhythms. Other factors like hot nights and allergies might contribute to symptoms developing.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms are our bodies’ internal clock, helping us to feel tired in the evening and stay awake during the day. The mechanisms behind these rhythms are complex, but we know that changes in light, social cues, activity levels, and feeding schedules all play a role.

When the light starts to dim in the evening, it triggers the production of hormones in our brain, including melatonin and serotonin. These hormones travel through the rest of the body, regulating daily functions such as mood, behaviour, energy, sleep, and appetite. 

While the mechanisms behind summer SAD aren’t clear, some scientists think that long summer days may lead to delayed or reduced production of melatonin, causing young people to experience sleep problems or insomnia. People with SAD may already have unbalanced levels of melatonin and serotonin, preventing them from adapting to seasonal changes in light and darkness like other people are able to.

Treating Summer Depression

For young people with seasonal SAD, getting through the spring and summer months can be tough. The good news is, there is plenty of support available to treat symptoms of seasonal depression and help prevent its onset.

Psychotherapy

As with other forms of depression, psychotherapy can help young people with SAD to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings and make lasting changes. There are many different types of therapy available, including behavioural therapies, psychodynamic therapies, and somatic therapies that focus on the mind-body connection.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most common types of therapy for seasonal affective disorder. CBT supports individuals to identify negative thought and behavioural patterns and replace them with more positive ones. Therapists may work with young people to develop strategies to help them sleep, reduce anxious thoughts, and maintain healthy eating patterns.

Medications

Doctors may prescribe anti-depressant medications like SSRIs that help regulate a person’s serotonin levels. Medications are usually prescribed alongside psychotherapeutic options that promote long-term change.

Self-Care and Lifestyle Changes

Seasonal affective disorder is a mental health condition that requires professional care and support. However, young people may also benefit from certain lifestyle changes and self-care practices that support the recovery process and help prevent symptoms of summer SAD.

Some helpful practices may include:

  • Improving Sleep Quality – Young people may find that spending time in dark rooms before they go to bed helps them to sleep better and for longer. Other relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation can also improve sleep.
  • Staying Cool – Using air-conditioning or other cooling systems at night may help young people to get more sleep. Staying cool during the day can also help some people to feel less stressed and improve their mood.
  • Reducing Stress – Chronic feelings of stress make it more likely that a person experiences depression. Taking steps to reduce stress levels, like relaxation techniques, exercise, and spending time with friends can help improve a young person’s mood.
  • Maintaining a Balanced Diet – For people who struggle with a low appetite in the summer, it can be difficult to eat enough nutrients to stay well. Eating regular, balanced, and nutrient-dense meals can help keep both the body and the mind healthy.

The Wave Clinic – Transformative Recovery Programs in Malaysia

The Wave Clinic offers transformative mental health treatment programs, tailored to the needs of young people. Our team includes experts in teenage and adolescent mental health from all over the world, working together to deliver unequalled clinical care to every young person. We adopt a whole-person approach that focuses on full recovery, positive growth, and lasting change.

At The Wave, we want young people to leave our centre with the skills they need to build the future they dream of. Through exciting experiences, education, vocational courses, community building, and other elements, we support young people to find their path in life and develop the confidence to follow it. Our programs set the global standard for teenage and adolescent mental health support, making a difference in the lives of young people from across the world.

If you have any questions or would like to start the admissions process, reach out to us today. We’re here to make a change.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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