Can Sunshine Make You Depressed?

Does summertime make you SAD? While most people welcome the warm weather, long days, and opportunities for outdoor activities, a small percent of the population feels depressed instead.

Seasonal Affective Disorder-or SAD-typically occurs during the winter months. People with SAD experience depression that recurs the same time each year. In the winter, the short days and reduced sunshine disrupt certain people's circadian rhythm, or biological clock, triggering depressive symptoms.

Only about one percent of the population struggles with summertime SAD. SAD sufferers tend to sleep and eat less, lose weight, and become irritable and agitated-the opposite symptoms of winter SAD.

While mental health experts don't really know what causes summertime SAD, they suspect the heat and humidity or extra bright sunlight plays a role in triggering depression symptoms. The longer days may also disrupt circadian rhythms and cause changes in levels of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep patterns and mood, or serotonin, a mood neurotransmitter.

Whatever the causes, you should take SAD seriously; it's a very real form of depression. At its most severe, individuals may be at risk for suicide. Females are more likely to suffer from SAD, but males generally experience more severe symptoms. Having family members with depression or SAD is a risk factor. So is living far from the equator, where the days can be especially long (or short).

There's no definitive test to diagnose SAD. Mental health professionals look for a recurrence of depression symptoms for two years during the same season with no other explanations for the changes. In wintertime, many patients experience relief with light therapy; however, there's no equivalent treatment for summertime SAD. Physicians may prescribe antidepressants or psychotherapy. It's best to initiate treatment before the onset of the season that triggers depression. Some patients find that nutritional or dietary supplements and mind body therapies help them manage symptoms.

If you suspect you have SAD, talk to your physician. You can also take steps to help you cope with symptoms.

  • Summertime can disrupt your regular routine, so establish a schedule and follow it
  • Adhere to the treatment your physician prescribes
  • Take care of yourself-eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get plenty of sleep
  • Engage in enjoyable activities
  • Socialize with friends and family
  • If you can, take a trip to someplace cool for a break from the heat, humidity, and intense summer sun


Mayo Clinic. "Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)." Web. 24 September 2009.