Summertime Sadness: What to Know About Reverse SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Explore the lesser-known Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), its symptoms, causes, and potential treatments for improving mental health during the summer months.

grow therapy therapist candy taylor ceballos By Candy Taylor-Ceballos, LCSW

Updated on Apr 30, 2024

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When most people think about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression, they think about the winter. Many folks dread the increasingly cold, long, dark days of fall and winter and look forward to better mental health in the spring and summer.

However, for some people, the opposite rings true. Enter: Reverse SAD.

Reverse SAD, or summer-onset SAD, is just as valid a disorder as traditional winter-onset SAD, although it’s less widely known and understood.

People who suffer from reverse SAD have a case of summertime sadness and feel depressed even though the days are long and the sun is shining.

SAD has a massive impact on mental health, and it can severely decrease someone’s quality of life, especially if they don’t seek treatment.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

“Seasonal affective disorder is a type of major depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, most often fall or winter,” says Michelle Coleman, a licensed professional counselor specializing in depression with Grow Therapy.

There are two distinct types of SAD: winter-onset SAD, which is most common, and summer-onset SAD, also known as reverse SAD, which is rare.

“Typically, with [winter-onset SAD], symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months. These symptoms often resolve during the spring and summer months,” Coleman says.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, regardless of the season of onset, include:

Winter-onset SAD has some specific unique symptoms, too. Coleman says some other signs of winter depression include:

Seasonal depression is not a one-time occurrence. It is recurrent.

In order to receive a formal diagnosis of SAD, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), you must have experienced at least two years of depression following a seasonal pattern. The symptoms should have a distinct beginning and end. For example, someone with SAD may have symptoms throughout fall and winter and then feel significantly better during the spring and summer two years in a row. This clearly shows a pattern indicative of SAD.

People usually develop SAD during adulthood, and it affects 5% of adults in the United States every year. Those who live further from the equator and experience even fewer hours of daylight in the winter are at an even higher risk of having winter-onset SAD.

What is Reverse SAD?

Reverse seasonal affective disorder, also known as summer-onset SAD, is essentially the opposite of traditional winter-onset SAD. It accounts for only 10% of instances of this disorder.

While people with winter SAD fall into a depression when the days are shorter, colder, and darker, it seems that people with reverse SAD enter their deepest depression in the spring and summertime when there are high temperatures and longer days.

In the case of reverse SAD, Coleman says people’s symptoms will appear in spring or early summer and resolve during the fall or winter. The condition may start out mild and become more severe as the summer goes on.

To be diagnosed with summer SAD, someone must have had at least two consecutive years of depression with a seasonal pattern. People with this pattern will experience symptoms in the spring and summer and then feel significantly better in the fall and winter.

Symptoms of Reverse SAD

For the most part, the overarching symptoms of SAD, such as a depressed mood and lack of interest in activities, are the same regardless of the season of onset. However, just as there are some unique identifying symptoms for winter-onset SAD, there are also some different signs for those who have reverse SAD.

Symptoms unique to summer-onset SAD are:

What Causes Reverse SAD?

Researchers do not know of an exact or definitive cause of seasonal affective disorder, including reverse SAD. However, there are some theories surrounding potential causes for winter-onset SAD, including:

While these theories make sense for winter SAD, they don’t exactly explain the cause of reverse SAD.

More studies must be conducted specifically surrounding summer-onset SAD to further understand the mechanisms behind this unique pattern.

Preliminary research has pointed to a link between high pollen counts and mood. Researchers found that some people reported worsening moods when pollen counts rose, suggesting a seasonal pattern to the mood and predicting summertime SAD.

Additionally, certain risk factors could increase the chances of you developing SAD, including:

How to Treat Reverse SAD

Ultimately, we need further research to better understand reverse SAD and how to treat it. There is a larger body of research surrounding winter-onset SAD and its treatments, such as daily light therapy in the morning and vitamin D supplements. However, since lack of light exposure isn’t a contributing factor for reverse SAD, these treatments do not help in this case.

Hopefully, in the future, there will be a more specialized treatment for reverse SAD occurring in the spring and summertime.

However, for now, treatment options that can benefit summer-onset SAD are:

1. Therapy

Therapy with a trained mental health professional can help tremendously. Coleman says cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly helpful for the treatment of SAD. CBT enables you to learn healthy ways to cope with SAD, such as reducing your avoidance behaviors, scheduling meaningful activities to look forward to, and changing negative thoughts that are making you feel worse, she says.

Depression often comes along with a lot of negative and unhelpful ways of thinking, but CBT can empower you to take control of this and teach you new ways to look at your situation. You might realize that you have negative beliefs or behaviors that are worsening your depression.

CBT will allow you to challenge these beliefs and come up with healthier thoughts. You’ll also learn coping skills to effectively manage difficult emotions and other useful tools like stress management techniques.

There is even a specific type of CBT known as CBT-SAD that is used for treating the disorder.

This modality pairs the basic principles of CBT with what’s known as behavioral activation. It’s common for depressed people to want to withdraw and not engage in activities they used to love.

Behavioral activation challenges this. The idea is that behaviors can improve your mood, and engaging in pleasant, healthy, and helpful activities – even if you would rather stay in bed – can boost your mood.

Make sure you choose the right therapist for you who suits your needs. Opt for a therapist who specializes in depression for best results. Don’t be afraid to ask if they have experience treating reverse SAD or summer-onset SAD to get a better feel if they’re a good fit for you.

2. Medication

For people who experience severe reverse SAD symptoms, psychiatric medication may be an option.

Antidepressants are the most frequently prescribed meds for SAD. There are many different types of antidepressants available, and a psychiatrist can help determine which is the best one for you based on your medical history and symptoms.

Since it can take a few weeks for the effects of antidepressants to kick in, your psychiatrist might advise you to begin taking the medication shortly before your symptoms usually begin, if you have an idea of when your reverse SAD usually crops up. This will help prevent you from experiencing your usual symptoms or lessen their severity.

Lifestyle Changes

Small changes to your lifestyle and increased self-care can make a difference in improving your symptoms.

Some examples of beneficial lifestyle changes for SAD include:

Dealing with either winter-onset or summer-onset SAD can be challenging.

Depression symptoms can cause you to feel sad, hopeless, and unmotivated, which can make seeking treatment feel even harder.

Summertime sadness doesn’t have to be your norm. It’s important to reach out for help if you’re struggling. “If you think you may be suffering from SAD, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health provider about your concerns,” says Coleman. “SAD may be diagnosed after a thorough mental health exam and medical history completed by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.”

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
grow therapy therapist candy taylor ceballos Candy Taylor-Ceballos, LCSW

Candy Taylor-Ceballos is a bilingual and bicultural therapist with over 10 years of experience specializing in work with children, adolescents, families, and newly/expecting mothers.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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