Spring and Mental Health: The Connections That Might Surprise You

The sun is shining. The birds are singing and the flowers are beginning to bloom. Hello Spring! After a dark, cold and dreary winter, you should be ready for fresh, bright days and feeling fine, right? So why are you feeling so down and out? The answer may surprise you.

You’re Not Imagining It

The effects of seasons on mental health have long been associated primarily with the winter months and a phenomenon known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). People who are susceptible to winter’s influence often experience an increase in depression, sleep disruption, reduced energy and other symptoms that ease as winter ends. But did you know that for some, the effects of the spring season can bring about intense symptoms of depression that can in some ways be even more intense that those affected in winter months?

While SAD is most typically seen in the winter months, about 1 in 10 people with SAD actually experience their most intense response to the changing seasons during the late spring and into summer. Sometimes referred to as “spring depression”, “summertime depression”, “reverse SAD” or “spring SAD”, this type of depression increases as winter transitions to spring with symptoms continuing over the course of spring and summer.

In some instances, these symptoms can be even more intense than those seen in winter SAD. Statistics show that the rates of suicide actually increase and peak in the spring.2So, while the prevalence of spring depression may be lower, the risk may be just as great or even higher.

Why Does This Happen?

The truth is, spring/summer depression is not as well-understood as the more common winter SAD. Researchers have begun to take notice of this spring depression and are trying to understand why it happens.

Some of the possible underlying factors for spring depression include:
  • Changes in circadian rhythms dues to seasonal changes in light exposure
  • Increases in environmental factors such as heat and humidity or allergy-induced inflammation
  • Hormonal issues, especially for women who are 4 times as likely to experience SAD
  • Changes in neurotransmitters such as serotonin or melatonin
  • Genetic componentsincluding family history
There is even some research that suggests the month/season you’re born in may influence susceptibility to developing seasonal depression.

What Does Spring SAD look like?

While there are similarities between winter and spring-type SAD, there are differences in symptoms. Depression is present in both types as well as changes in sleep, appetite, energy and mood including risk of suicidal thinking. The difference is in how these are expressed.

Symptoms specific to winter SAD (“winter depression”) may include: 
  • Oversleeping
  • A craving for high carbohydrate foods
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy
Symptoms specific to spring/summer SAD (“summer depression”) may include:
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

What Can You Do?

If you find yourself struggling with spring depression, there are things that can help. First, see your mental health provider to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. The National Institute of Mental Health has identified several treatments for SAD that may be helpful and that you and your provider may consider:

Light Therapy– certain types of light therapy may help.Before you go buy SAD lights, seek advice from your mental healthcare provider to see if this is appropriate for your type of depression. The use of this treatment differs for winter and spring/summer SAD.

Medication– Your mental health provider may prescribe medication especially if your symptoms are severe.

Psychotherapy– A specific type of therapy known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be particularly effective in treating SAD. CBT-SAD can help you to learn to cope with the symptoms of SAD and learn how to manage the stressors that can exacerbate symptoms.

What else can you do? Reach out to family and friends. Talk to someone. Spring depression is a real thing and you are not alone or imagining it. Learn about your symptoms and seek help from a qualified healthcare provider. There is help.

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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