Depression

14 September 2016

Can spring make you depressed?

Spring is supposed to make everyone feel happy and full of joy, but in some people it has quite the opposite effect . . .

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The arrival of spring usually signals fields full of blossoms days filled with sunshine. It’s a time that lifts most people's mood, conjuring up images of Julie Andrews running in a field full of flowers in The Sound of Music.

But for some people spring heralds the exact opposite: feelings of despair and depression.

Read: Know the warning signs of suicide

A recent comprehensive study from the University of Maryland found that suicides spike during spring and summer. “Seasonal variation of suicide rates with the most common peak occurring in late spring or summer is one of the most consistent themes from environment-suicide research,” the researchers found.

Unexplained mood changes

The phenomenon has baffled scientists for many years and because usually people feel more depressed during the winter months.

According to Harvard psychiatrist Dr John Sharp “our emotional lives are profoundly shaped by the seasons”. In his book The Emotional Calendar he explains how factors such as light, temperature and annual festivals can affect mood.

“Most people do feel an increase in exuberance, energy, optimism, excitement, maybe a restlessness and sleeplessness that can come from what we call spring fever,” Sharp told the BBC.

Seasonal affective disorder

Feeling depressed during spring or summer is often associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression related to changes in seasons.

Read: Many depressed adults not getting treatment

According to the Mayo Clinic this disorder usually coincides with late fall or early winter, but in some cases the opposite pattern occurs in spring or summer. In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania.

According to Dr Ian Cook from UCLA School of Medicine there can be many reasons why one can get depressed during spring.

  • Everybody else is in a good mood. If you are already suffering from depression or have a genetic predisposition a change of seasons can affect your mood.  Everybody else’s positive mood is likely to make you feel down, especially since there’s an expectation that you should celebrate the chirpy season.
  • Allergies. Allergy has been previously linked to suicide. The seasonality of suicide has been shown to co-occur with the seasonal peaks in ambient pollen concentration during spring.
  • Body image issues. In sunny South Africa spring often means getting your body summer-ready, but some people are very self-conscious. This can trigger a depressive episode.
  • Financial strain. Spring and summer can be expensive. People do a lot more outside activities that cost money, and as the festive season and holidays approach it puts extra strain on their finances. All these expectations can lead to a depressive episode, especially in parents who has to take care of a family.

Know the warning signs

If you experience these symptoms you should consult a psychologist or psychiatrist.

  • Fatigue
  • A loss of appetite
  • Not enjoying activities you enjoyed before
  • Sleep problems
  • Eating too much or too little

Read more:

Depression common after time in ICU

The link between PMS, depression and suicidal thoughts

Depression may be 'in the genes'

 

Ask the Expert

Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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