Like many people, Rob Lawruk is happier in the summer.
Winter? Not his thing.
“It’s just cold,” said Lawruk, who is studying education at Wilmington University. “It’s miserable, you gotta stay inside, you get cooped up, you’re around your roommates too much.”
He said last week’s 100-degree temperatures didn’t bother him–he is an Iraq vet, and would go for a hike in triple-digit weather. While that might be a bit extreme, the scientific literature suggests that, overall, people are happier in the summer.
But there are exceptions. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects about 1 to 2 percent of Americans. While most suffer during the short days of winter, some sink into depression in the summer instead.
“They may be doing fine during the fall and winter months, but somewhere during the spring and summer, they go through a profound annual mood change, and it’s a serious one,” said George Brainard, neurology professor and head of Thomas Jefferson University’s light-research program.
There is no scientific consensus about the exact causes of wintertime SAD, though leading theories suggest it is likely due to a lack of sunlight disrupting circadian rhythms or melatonin production.
Scientists know much less about summer depression, which Brainard said accounts for anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of SAD suffers.
There are two general theories.
“One is increased light exposure somehow triggers it,” Brainard said. “Because of course there’s a lot more ambient sunlight, the weather is nice, and people get out more, and they’re exposed to more light and it triggers it somehow. That’s one idea.”
The other idea is that it may be triggered by heat. Not surprisingly, light therapy, which has proved very effective for wintertime sufferers has not worked for those affected in the summer. Some find relief in staying in air conditioning or going swimming frequently.
Antidepressant medication is the only proven effective treatment. The earlier in the season a drug regime is started, the better it works, said Brainard.
“It’s easier to forestall the occurrence of summer depression than it is to reverse it once the thing has fully set in,” he said.
Those with winter depression crave high-carbohydrate foods and often gain 10 to 30 pounds over a season, while those with summer depression do not. Summer SAD sufferers, however, are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.