“I’ve got the summertime, summertime sadness.”
I wish that I could have sung along when I first heard those words from Lana Del Ray. I remember sitting outside by the pool with headphones in and magazines by my side- a seemingly perfect lazy summer day. I nearly froze as I lifted a Caesar to my mouth. “I have that”, I said to myself. I had spent too many days in the summer feeling absolutely miserable and that particular day was the first that I had felt strong enough to venture outside. While for many, summer is a time of celebration and relaxation, for me it means heightened experiences of depression, anxiousness, irritability and mood swings. Summertime sadness, indeed.
Have you ever noticed or heard of people feeling extra down in the winter, more than the usual ‘blahs’? Likely, they are a candidate of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD is a mood disorder that is characterized by the susceptibility of a person to not be able to function as they typically do, during a certain season. Symptoms can include increases in anxiety, irritability/agitation, insomnia, poor appetite, loss of interest in usual activities, feelings of hopelessness. It’s most commonly experienced in the winter, when people have a hard time with the shorter days, freezing temperatures, terrible drives and confinement to the indoors. These individuals can feel completely alleviated when the sun comes out again and are able to rejoice in the warmth that inevitably returns in April.
However, for some people, the emergence of warmer days forth the same fear as the changing of leaves. For some people, winter is a great season to thrive in, while the dog days of summer become unbearable. For some people, summer is the worst time of the year. It’s called Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the summer variant of SAD. It’s more than a Lana lyric: it’s a part of my life.
“How can you be so sad when it’s sunny?”
Put simply: I just can. Understand that though it may seem everyone else is having the time of their lives, some people aren’t. Bad days can happen in the summer just like good days can happen in the winter, and sometimes the bad days add up more than the good ones, at an alarming rate. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, “summertime sadness”, affects less than one percent of the population, which is only about a tenth of overall SAD cases.
The finite cause of reverse SAD has yet to be discovered: many speculate it has to do with the way a person negatively reacts to the light, humidity and heat that occur in the warmer weather. Much of the mood swings of the disorder have to do with the idea of expectation: people with reverse SAD feel like they have to be having a good time, but in reality, they can feel stifled by the heat, humidity, light and social pressures that come with the summer months.
The good news is that just as there are treatments for the winter SAD, such as a light therapy, vitamin B and D supplements, counselling, etc, there are treatment options for the summer variant. Some people may find that limiting their exposure to heat and increasing their time spent in cooler temperatures can help regulate their body temperature and thus increase their overall moods or feelings. As with any mental health concern treating the illness from the inside out also alleviates its symptoms: such as exercise, getting enough sleep, eating nutrient-dense foods, staying hydrated and through physical activity.
This is a mental health concern, yet it’s not talked about. Albeit, it’s the rarest form of SAD and can fall under the umbrella term of bi polar disorder. Although it affects the one per cent of the 10 per cent that even have the larger picture disorder, it only makes itself prominent for a few months of the year, and can vary from candidate to candidate, leaving no two affected alike… it still matters, because how many people in the world make up that one per cent? How many other people could benefit from labelling their own diagnosis, thereby understanding its causes and triggers and could consequently implement solutions to make changes? How many other people are living with these issues who are yet to be diagnosed?
Of course, the efforts and concerns raised by Mental Health advocacy committees is a wonderful testament to what community awareness and engagement can do. The problem is what happens after the campaign is over. Mental Health issues don’t take a break on the weekends, or in the summer months, or at any point in a person’s life. Why should the advocacy only last one day when the issues occur all year round?
One good hit can win a fight, but continuous force and determination will win a battle. When we actively work to fight a stigma, our continual actions should surpass our one-two punches. Mental Health is not a one day tweet-a-thon. It’s an on-going process that is directly fought by some, but supported by many.
Life can be tough, but it can also be beautiful, with help and support to cope. What’s important to remember is this: you are not your illness, no matter how complicated, rare, seemingly insignificant or scary it is.