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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Summer Triggers Rare Form of Depression

Sunny days and warmer air are often the long-awaited highlights of the summer season for many. However, for some, high humidity and bright days can spiral them into a period of depression.

Although significantly less common than the "winter blues," seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can also occur during the summer months.

A recently discovered disorder, SAD is classified by full-blown major depressive episodes that take form most often around the transition between seasons. Most cases of the disorder take hold during the transition between the fall and winter months as days get shorter and darker, but in a few instances people can be impacted during the summer months.

"Summer depression is a much rarer disorder," Dr. Alfred Lewy with the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon, said. "For every 100 winter depression case, there is one summer depression case."

Despite the sheer differences in the number of occurrences, both SAD's summer and winter onsets have similar symptoms, ranging from feelings of sadness and hopelessness to decreased socialization, changes in appetite, sleeping patterns and difficulty concentrating. Predispositions to the disorder are also alike for the two seasonal types of the depression, influenced by family history, genetics and high stress levels.

"These forms of seasonal depression are depression so people with this meet the same symptoms that anyone with depression meets," Clinical Psychologist, Long-Time SAD Researcher and Ph.D. with Brigham and Women's Hospital Janis Anderson said.

While there are similarities between symptoms, unlike oversleeping and overeating habits associated with winter SAD, summer SAD is more likely to induce loss of appetite and sleeping troubles for those affected.

Although summer SAD has been studied significantly less than winter SAD due to the sparse number of cases, the studies that have been conducted have linked the influence of geography to the disorder's summer cases.

"The closer you are to the North Pole, the more likely it is that you will have winter SAD, but the closer you are to the equator, the more likely it is that you will have summer SAD," Anderson said.

Exposed to typically hot and muggy summers, most complaints about the summer onset of the disorder seem to occur in the southern parts of the United States, primarily on the East Coast in states like Florida, according to Anderson.

Due to the climatological conditions that are thought to trigger the onset of the disease in the summer months, air conditioning can provide relief for those with the disorder.

"It seems like getting in cool, dry and less humid conditions was more helpful to people with summer SAD than any manipulations of light exposure," Anderson said. "For summer SAD, air conditioning is one of the best things to reduce symptoms."

Other treatments for the disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy to attempt to reduce behavioral withdraw and negative thoughts, as well as the use of antidepressants.

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