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Seasonal Affective Disorder exists in the summertime too

While many people struggle with depression during dark winter months, the long and hot days of summer bring about a similar struggle for many. As the planet heats up, psychologists warn extreme and prolonged heatwaves could see more people affected.

Summertime Sadness isn’t just a song by Lana del Rey, it’s a genuine condition.

The clinical terminology for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), characterized by an onset of depression brought on by a change in seasonal patterns.

Though typically associated with winter months, when sunlight is lacking and outdoor activities are limited, around 10 percent of the world’s population reports feeling particularly unhappy during summer.

Unfortunately, for many, the prospect of baking in the sunspot of a terrace with a cold beer in hand sounds like a daytime nightmare. Long, balmy evenings threaten to steal the post-work joy of cuddling up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good film.

The key difference between SAD in winter and summer is how it manifests in a person’s mood. In winter, most people report feeling lethargic and anxious due to cold, dark days. In summer, people experiencing SAD report feeling overstimulated and agitated due to intense heat and long-lasting bright days.

Even without suffering from SAD, it’s common to get less sleep in the summertime. The sun rises earlier and sets later, making our homes warmer than normal. For those living in buildings without air conditioning, getting to sleep and staying asleep can be a challenge.

With prolonged heat and long periods of daylight affecting our circadian rhythms and ability to get solid shut-eye, it makes sense that people are, on average, more irritable in the summer. We may recognise that we should get out and make the most of the good weather while it lasts, but we’re tired and grumpy.

In attempts to better understand the impact of heat on human moods and behaviours, researchers at the University of Southern California analysed crime rates during particularly hot days. The 2019 study revealed that violent crime increased by up to 5.7 percent on days with temperatures higher than 85 degrees F (29.4 C).

Additional studies on the link between heat and violence were conducted in New South Wales, Australia. Assessing 13 years of data, researchers found that instances of domestic violence and sexual violence spiked in line with rising temperatures, both in public and private settings.

Interestingly, this heat aggression doesn’t just impact in-person reactions.

One study looked at rates of online hate speech on Twitter/X and found that it increases during extreme weather, both hot and cold. Its researchers then suggested that across various climatic and socioeconomic subgroups, humans are ill-equipped to cope with temperature extremes.

Together, the growing body of psychological and sociological research into the effects weather has on human social behaviour is building an important case for ramping up climate change mitigation and adaptation.

We are currently witnessing erratic and extreme weather rapidly become the norm across the globe.

Before it was even ‘officially’ summer this year, numerous states in the US saw temperatures soaring well beyond 35 degrees. Deaths caused by heatwaves ticked up in places such as India, Thailand, and Mexico.

In Saudi Arabia, more than 1,300 people died during this year’s pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites, known as Hajj. Temperatures reached an unthinkable 51 degrees, with the Saudi government reportedly treating 500,000 participants for heatstroke.

It’s clear that future large-scale events – and the infrastructure of all countries in general – should be thinking of climate-smart solutions and planning, as heatwaves surpass hurricanes and floods to become the deadliest weather phenomenon of the last 30 years.

Opportunities to drink water, shelter from the sun, and cool off can dramatically decrease the toll that extreme heat has on our mental and physical wellbeing. For those suffering with SAD in the summer, simple measures like blackout curtains, regular breaks from the sun, and releasing social pressures to live it up all summer, and speaking to a professional can help.

Although last year may have been the hottest ever recorded on planet Earth, there’s still time for this year to surpass those measurements. If it doesn’t happen now, it’s more than likely that coming years will break new heat records.

How well prepared we are for that – mentally and physically – will depend on how much thought, planning, and energy we’ve dedicated to climate adaptation.