Summer? Bummer. The Curse of Sunny-Day Depression

The summer got off to a slow start in Santa Monica, Calif., -- and Saskia Smith could not have been more pleased.

"We had two months of relative cool and cloud coverage," she recalled. "That really was like a soothing balm."

But then the weather got warmer. And unlike the throngs of sun worshippers who head to the outdoors at the first sign of warm weather, the 32-year-old Smith said for her the summer months bring about depression and anxiety.

"I look outside now, and I acknowledge a perfect, beautiful blue sky," she said. "But then I look at the sun and the heat coming off the pavement and I say, 'Ugh, I don't want to go outside.'"

It may seem like an unusual reaction, and it is; psychology experts say only a handful of people experience this particular variation of what is known as seasonal depression. And some even doubt that a depressive condition specifically linked to the summer months actually exists.

"As a clinical psychologist in the practice and research sphere, my understanding is that 'reverse' seasonal affective disorder is not a true disorder or diagnosis and is mentioned only a few times in the existing clinical literature," said Katherine Muller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "Depending on the presenting symptoms, clinicians would likely label this as a mood disorder and offer treatments that we know are effective for depression, such as antidepressant medications and/or cognitive behavioral psychotherapy."

Smith is not alone, however. John, 73, of Oregon (who requested that his full name be withheld) said he has experienced periods of depression, each lasting for several months, that have coincided with seven of the last eight summers. At the time John spoke with, he said he was in the midst of just such an episode.

Depression Strikes Some During Summer Months

"They typically start around May, and they tend to go into some degree of remission between September and November," John said.

But during these months, he said, the symptoms he experiences are debilitating. "Things that I enjoy doing, I lose all enthusiasm for," he said. "I experience what is known as anhedonia -- joylessness, an inability to experience pleasure."

And even though John has experience helping others discover the root of their depression -- he is a psychologist himself -- he said that when it comes to the origins of his own depression, he is at a loss.

"I'm really stumped," he said. "I have no good sense for what brings these episodes on."

Dealing With Summer Onset Depression

People who say they suffer from summer-onset depression face what many would consider a rough deal. Not only do their depressive symptoms occur during a season normally associated with recreation and fun, but they also strike at a time when psychiatrists and therapists are notorious for taking their August vacations.

But despite the scarcity of scientific literature on summer depression, research on seasonal affective disorder -- or by the evocative acronym SAD -- has led to a greater acceptance that winter blues, at least, are a legitimate diagnosis.

SAD is normally associated with depression, lethargy, fatigue and other symptoms that coincide with the colder, darker months of the year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 10 million people in the United States have some degree of winter-onset depression.

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