Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is classified as recurrent major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern specifier. It is a type of recurring depression that gets worse during a certain time of the year. While SAD typically occurs in the dark winter months, about 10% of people with SAD experience seasonal depression in the spring.
Read on to learn how SAD manifests differently in the spring than in the winter.
What Is Spring Depression?
Spring depression is a form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that occurs in the spring and/or summer, instead of the more common form of SAD, which occurs in the fall and winter months.
Symptoms of Spring Depression
Symptoms of spring SAD tend to be different than those of winter SAD.
Typical spring and/or summer SAD symptoms include:
- Sadness or low mood
- Feeling anxious, agitated, or restless
- Reduced appetite, often leading to weight loss
- Sleep difficulties, such as insomnia
- Episodes of violent behavior
The severity of symptoms varies but can become severe enough to cause significant distress and suicidal thoughts, or interfere with daily functioning.
Symptoms appear in the spring or early summer, and they ease in the fall or winter.
What Causes Spring Depression?
The exact cause of spring depression is unknown, but researchers have identified some possible contributing factors. These include:
- Heat and humidity
- Longer days
- Disruption to routine
- Change in sleep patterns due to more sunlight, heat, and other spring and summer discomforts
- Seeing others having fun (such as in vacation photos) and feeling left out or feeling pressure to feel better
- Avoidance of summer activities due to health or appearance concerns
- Seasonal allergies (associated with increased symptoms of depression and mood disorders, possibly due to inflammation)
- Genetics or heredity
For some, depression symptoms appear or get worse in the spring. While it isn’t known exactly why, researchers believe factors such as seasonal allergies, longer daylight hours, heat, and a disruption in sleep patterns due to seasonal changes could be contributing factors.
How Is Spring Depression Diagnosed?
SAD is distinct from depression without a seasonal specifier because of its pattern of symptoms. Symptoms must be present or worsen during a specific time of year (such as spring to fall). These symptoms typically last about four to five consecutive months of the year.
While not everyone with SAD experiences symptoms every year, for a diagnosis of SAD, this pattern of symptoms must occur for at least two consecutive years.
Episodes during this time of year must occur much more frequently than depressive episodes the person may experience or have experienced during other times of the year.
The diagnostic process typically begins with a primary healthcare provider, who may:
- Ask about your symptoms, sleep patterns, lifestyle, medical and family history, mood, and any other relevant information
- Perform a physical exam and/or order tests to look for a physical reason for your symptoms
- Refer you to a mental health professional
For some people, the depression persists past the season, which may lead to a diagnosis change to major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
What Are the Risk Factors for Spring Depression?
Researchers have identified some potential risk factors for SAD, including:
- Age: SAD typically starts between ages 18 and 30.
- Sex: SAD is more common in women than men.
- Family history: About 15% of people with SAD have an immediate family member who also has or has had the condition. 25%–67% of people with SAD have relatives with other mood or psychological disorders, such as major depressive disorder or schizophrenia.
- Other mental health conditions: SAD affects 10%–20% of people with major depressive disorder, and approximately 25% of people with bipolar disorder. People with SAD often have other mental health disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an eating disorder, an anxiety disorder, or panic disorder.
How Is Spring Depression Treated?
Treatment for spring depression may include:
- Medication: SAD can be treated with a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy helps identify and improve unhealthy thought patterns, manage symptoms, and deal with stress in healthier ways.
- Light therapy: This therapy, also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, involves spending time in front of a light box that mimics sunlight for 20-60 minutes a day. Since ultraviolet (UV) rays from some light boxes can be harmful, look for a light box with a built-in UV filter.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
If you are experiencing symptoms of any form of depression, see your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. While a SAD diagnosis requires symptoms to occur for two affected seasonal periods in a row, you don’t need to wait two years to seek help for your symptoms.
Spring depression is a form of seasonal affective disorder, in which depression symptoms occur or worsen in the spring and/or summer. The exact cause isn’t known, but it’s believed to be related to factors such as increased daylight, allergies, heat, and circadian rhythm changes. Spring depression may improve with medication, talk therapy, light therapy, or sleep routine changes.
A Word From Verywell
If you notice depression symptoms more in the spring and summer than at other times of the year, you may be experiencing spring depression. See your healthcare provider or contact a mental health professional if you are showing signs of any type of depression, even if it’s seasonal. Treatment is available, so you don’t have to suffer needlessly.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know if you have depression?
While it’s helpful to know symptoms of depression to see if they are affecting you, it’s important to see a healthcare provider or mental health professional to receive an accurate diagnosis and determine a treatment plan.
Is depression more common in the spring?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is much more common in the winter months, but spring depression is very real. For some people, depression symptoms become worse in the spring and summer and improve in the fall and winter.
Can anxiety also get worse in the spring?
Anxiety is a possible symptom of spring/summer SAD. People with spring SAD may find they feel more anxious during the spring and summer months.