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Medical Monday: Summer Isn't Always Sunny For Everyone

Posted: 7:10 PM, Jul 25, 2016
Updated: 2016-07-25 20:10:59-04
Say the word summer, and for most people it conjures images of fun at the beach or at the pool, or images of cruising down the highway in a convertible or on a sweet motorcycle, the list goes on and on and it’s mostly positive images. But for some people, due to life’s curveballs or certain chemical imbalances within us, they just can’t seem to get out of an emotional funk. That’s because depression, which most of us probably associate with long, drawn-out winters, can affect patients even during the warmest and most fun-filled time of the year.
 
Dr. Lynn Wagner is an integrative lifestyle medicine physician with BayCare Clinic. She joined us on Wisconsin Tonight to talk about summer depression. 
 
About 10% of people with seasonal affective disorder (a form of depression normally experienced in the winter months) get it in the reverse – summer’s start triggers their depression symptoms. It can be a serious issue. 
 
If not treated properly, summer depression can lead to serious problems such as:
* Suicidal thoughts or risky behavior
* Substance abuse (drugs and/or alcohol)
* Social withdrawal
 
Fortunately, there are treatments that can help patients manage depression.
 
Besides seasonal affective disorder, what are other causes of summer depression?
 
* Summertime SAD: As we discussed, some people with SAD experience it in the reverse — the onset of summer ushers in their depression symptoms.
* Disrupted schedules in summer: Having a reliable routine is often key to staving off symptoms of depression. But during the summer, routine goes out the window — and that disruption can be stressful and lead to summer depression.
* Body image issues: As the temperature climbs and the layers of clothing fall away, a lot of people feel terribly self-conscious about their bodies. Because so many summertime gatherings revolve around beaches and pools, some people start avoiding social situations out of embarrassment. That self-isolation can lead to summer depression.
* Financial worries: Summers can be expensive – vacations, summer camps, daycare or babysitters to keep your kids occupied while you’re on the job. The expenses can add to a feeling of summer depression.
* The heat: Lots of people relish the summer heat and all that entails. But for the people who don’t, it can cause them to hide out in the comfort of an air-conditioned living room, all day, all night. That hermit-like existence can eventually contribute to summer depression.
 
What are the red flags signaling depression?
 
Onset of depression in summer is similar to depression experienced in winter. Symptoms range 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 both types of the depression, influenced by family history, genetics and high stress levels. Here are some basic signs of summer depression:
* You hate the heat
* You have difficulty sleeping
* You’re losing weight without trying
* You’re snapping at family and friends
* You have suicidal thoughts
 
If you feel suicidal thoughts, consult with your physician immediately or seek assistance from your local crisis center hotline. They can help.
 
What can we do to avoid summer depression?
 
 
There are many things we recommend to help avoid depression in all seasons. Consult your physician for a plan that works best for your individual experience.
 
Here are some suggestions:
 
* Exercise: Regular exercise, studies say, is useful in keeping depression at an arm’s length.
* Find support: Discuss with family or friends, consult with your physician or find an online support group. There is help for summer depression.
* Create structure for yourself: Yes, the kids are on summer vacation and may demand your attention, leaving little time for yourself and your work. Try to create some structure – even if it’s a morning ritual you adhere to the same time every day and a midday ritual as well. The structure helps some ease their depressive feelings.
* Hydrate with water: Two studies at the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory suggest even mild dehydration can alter a person’s mood. Add to that a study by the National Institutes of Health that says people who drink four or more cans of soda daily are about 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than people who don’t drink soda. The importance of water to hydrate can’t be emphasized enough.
* Get a good night’s sleep: Lack of sleep, thanks to the short nights jam-packed with summer pool parties, barbeques and more, is a trigger for depression. Do your best to get to bed at a reasonable time.
 
For more information visit BayCare Clinic at baycare.net .