For some, depression deepens as temperatures rise

July 2, 2018 Providence Health Team

It’s sunny and warm outside, kids are splashing in wading pools and your friends are posting vacation pictures on social media. So why aren’t you happy?

It may seem counterintuitive to most people, but spring and summer can be the hardest months for those dealing with depression or other mental health issues.

Seasonal affective disorder is often associated with cold weather and daylight savings time. But while winter brings cold, wet weather and long, gray nights, spring and summer bring perils of their own. In fact, the rate of suicide attempts are higher in spring and summer than any other time. They are lowest in December.

Why spring and summer are hard

In their article on the seasonality of suicidal behavior published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, authors Jong-Min Woo, Olaoluwa Okusaga and Teodor T. Postolache suggest the upswing in warm-weather suicides may be influenced by such environmental factors as:

  • Longer days
  • More intense sunlight
  • Higher temperatures
  • Higher humidity
  • Wind
  • Higher levels of pollutants
  • Proliferating allergens

These, combined with other factors, such as socioeconomic or familial stress and genetic predisposition, may tip a depressed person toward suicide. But researchers acknowledge more investigation is needed to understand the environmental factors that may contribute to suicidal behavior when the weather warms up.

Yet some of the factors are self-explanatory. The very stress of living up to other people’s expectations of seasonal happiness can deepen a person’s depression. Your friends’ Facebook post from a piazza in Rome can exacerbate a sense of exclusion. Sleep and social rhythms may be disrupted by changes in routines, such as kids being out of school. Even the idea of fitting into a swimsuit can be a stressor.

Handling the Summertime Blues

Perhaps the first challenge for someone prone to warm-weather depression is recognizing the pattern. Warm-weather depression is not a widely discussed issue, compared to some emotional health challenges, but it can be severe nonetheless.

Some things you can do to deal with the spring and summer feelings:

  • Undertake some physical activity in the mornings, before the day heats up. This can boost your energy the rest of the day.
  • Keep your temperature down. Draw your blinds. Run the air conditioner.
  • Be honest with others, acknowledging when you’re struggling to enjoy yourself.
  • Discuss with your health care provider whether medication, or a change in medication, can help you through the seasonal valley.

In general, you can help yourself by staying active, eating a healthy diet and drinking less alcohol, which acts as a depressant. 

Refer to our overview of depression care advice, and to the resources suggested by the National Institute of Mental Health. And always, if your depression is severe — you feel hopeless, or worthless — see a health care provider immediately. If you are feeling suicidal or in crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

If you’d like to talk to a Providence provider about depression or anything else, you can find one near you in our online directory.

AK: Providence Medical Group Behavioral Health Services

CA: Providence Psychiatric Services

MT: Providence Behavioral Health

OR: Providence Behavioral Health

WA: Providence Medical Group, Olympia Psychiatry; Swedish Behavioral Health; Spokane Psychology

Learn how Providence St. Joseph Health is advancing the future of mental health.

Recommended for you:

Horoscopes aside, your birth month really does affect your health

How to help someone in the midst of a mental health crisis

Suicide: How to help prevent it

 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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