Dear Dr. Garner,
I am concerned about my wife. She is in good health, and basically in a good mood all year, but in the summer she becomes depressed. This seems to be a trend. I have heard of depression related to winter, but not the summer. Is this unusual?
SAD Spouse in summer in Sunset Park
You have mentioned a depression related to a specific time of year. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It means that at a certain time of the year, for reasons unknown, that one becomes depressed. This is a definite scientific entity and advanced brain scans demonstrate an area of the brain that malfunctions in these instances.
The amount of sunlight one receives in winter is related to the disease. It occurs much more frequently in northern areas, with fewer cases near the equator. There are various degrees of the depression associated with the illness. The most severe form involves at least five from the list below:
1. Depressed mood
2. Loss of interest
3. Weight loss
6. Feelings of guilt
8. Inability to concentrate
9. Suicidal thinking or behavior
In June, 2006, a new drug was approved for the disorder, known as Wellbutrin. In studies, it was highly effective in preventing depression in about 84 percent of people who had experienced the symptoms in previous years. Interestingly, those who took a placebo (sugar pill) had a 72 percent rate of success.
Wellbutrin is a medication, which has been used for depression previously and has several side effects. When used for a condition like serious depression, the benefits outweigh the risks. Not all people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will present with major depression, and for most, it won’t be necessary to take this medication. For milder cases in the winter, light therapy (sitting in front of florescent light for 30 minutes a day) or yoga, meditation and exercise will do the trick.
Now to address your wife’s situation: There is a SAD that is the reverse of the usual winter blues or winter depression. It is more rare than the winter version but does occur. Depression, poor appetite, weight loss, insomnia and a feeling of hopelessness usually accompany it. It develops in the late spring and summer and disappears in winter. Light therapy does not help this type of SAD and may even worsen it. It may be related to heat and humidity, although regular air conditioners do not help the condition. Trips to northern areas for a week often help to improve the situation.
Interestingly, in the spring, there is SAD that actually presents with euphoria and an overabundance of energy. We call it “spring fever,” but because it occurs during a specific season, it falls into this category.
For severe cases of SAD in summer, Wellbutrin is an excellent choice. For mild cases of summer blues, exercise and meditation, as well as supportive behavior from the family, will often do the trick.
If your wife displays any signs of severe depression as I have mentioned above, I urge you to get her help as there are now medications available to treat this.
I thank you for your interesting question. Once again, let me wish all of our readers a happy, healthful and restful summer. Be well!