It’s springtime: the sun is out, the birds are back to chirping all day long in your backyard, flowers are blooming, everywhere seems all cheery and bright, and there are various exciting social events lined out for the next few months. You should be happy, but you don’t feel quite like that.
Why am I not excited? Am I depressed in spring? Can seasonal depression happen in the spring? If so, why do I get depressed in the spring? You ask.
Like you, many Americans find that spring and summertime are not their best seasons. And without any obvious cause, they get seasonal depression in spring.
If you’ve gone to an online forum to learn more about depression in the spring, you may be surprised to learn there are many others like you. But, they all have different understandings of it and how it affects them, which may leave you with more confusion.
Today, we’ll take a comprehensive look at springtime depression, but first things first, you need to understand seasonal depression.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with Seasonal Patterns
The American Psychiatric Association identifies Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns in its Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
*Most publications may address MDD with seasonal patterns as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
People with MDD with seasonal pattern experience some changes in their mood in some seasons, usually during late fall and early winter.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day occur in winter and are among the top 5 holidays in the United States. However, for most people, the sense of gloom that comes with the lack of sufficient daylight and freezing weather trumps the joys of the season.
Biologically, although under contest, the reduction in warmth and sunlight exposure during winter could affect the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. This neurotransmitter is also the focus of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of common antidepressants.
That’s why many people get the winter blues and live through a bout of depression that often lifts as spring approaches with more sunlight.
Consequently, most people associate the seasonal affective disorder with fall and winter. Then, they may find it strange that they get depressed in spring.
Can Seasonal Depression Happen in the Spring?
Unfortunately, having seasonal depression in spring is a reality for millions of Americans across all regions of the United States.
In fact, a 2019 news publication by Johns Hopkins Medicine pointed out that contrary to popular belief, suicide rates spike in spring, not winter. Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine link this spike in suicide rates to seasonal depression in spring.
One of the experts, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, stated that due to the seasonal nature of depression and suicide, he monitors about 300 of his patients more closely in the spring.
Even studies, such as that led by Norman E. Rosenthal, who first described Seasonal Affective Disorder and approached it with the winter blues context, found that some of the patients on trial experienced seasonal depression in spring.
Although there are not as many studies focusing on people who get depressed in spring as there are others that focus on winter depression, results from numerous studies conducted over the years show that people do have seasonal depression in spring.
So, back to the question, can seasonal depression happen in the spring? Empirically, the answer is yes. But what does spring depression actually mean?
What is Spring Depression?
Spring depression is also known as reverse SAD, seasonal springtime depression, or springtime sadness. It’s called Reverse SAD because, for the longest time, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was mostly only associated with the depressive mood change that recurs in winter and remits in spring.
Spring depression is a type of depression that occurs as the season changes from winter to spring. Many people who have springtime sadness may not know they have it nor understand why they have it.
Some adults have been experiencing spring depression since they were younger, but because it’s not a topic of most discussions on seasonal depression, most people are unaware of it as a condition they may be experiencing.
Springtime depression could be especially troubling because there is a common belief that people are generally happier in spring and summertime. They are the seasons people mostly experience mania or hypomania. That is excessive energy, excitement, or enthusiasm.
So, if that is the case, why would someone be depressed at a time they should be bursting at the seams with energy? What is the link between springtime and depression? And more importantly, why do I get depressed in the spring?
Why Do I Get Depressed in the Spring?
You could be depressed in spring due to any number of causes. Scientists have not been able to determine the causes of seasonal springtime depression conclusively.
However, speculations in the psychiatric community point fingers at probable causes which could stem from genetics, changes in daylight, mental health, seasonal allergies, hormonal changes, and expectations.
The probable causes above do not necessarily cover all the reasons you get depressed in spring. There are chances that undocumented causes of depression in the spring exist for some individuals whose thoughts are troubled by the question, “Why do I get depressed in the spring?”
If this question keeps you up at night, it’s important to know right now that seasonal depression in spring is a curable condition. You don’t have to live with it year after year; seek help from a mental health expert and get right back on track to being the best you can be all year round.
That said, let’s have a closer look at some of the probable causes of spring depression.
What Causes Seasonal Springtime Depression?
Now that you know that seasonal depression can happen in springtime, knowing the probable causes and how they might affect you is helpful.
Changes in Daylight
The body goes through a natural cycle of behavioral, mental, and physical changes in 24 hours. This cycle is known as the circadian rhythm. The chief determiner of our body’s circadian rhythm is light or the absence of it.
We tend to be more active with longer daylight availability. For some individuals, this could result in stress and unhealthy sleeping patterns, which are all risk factors for depression.
Scientists believe that “seasonal allergies in the spring put many Americans at a higher risk for depression.” There is reportedly overwhelming evidence suggesting that allergic reactions can lead to depression in people previously without it or worsen depression in those that were battling it in winter.
For instance, a cumulative study of about 19 million people with various forms of rhinitis in the U.S. found that there is a significant correlation between rhinitis and an increased risk of depression.
For context, rhinitis is a seasonal allergy prevalent in spring and summer up to early fall. And for a broader context, over 50 million Americans suffer seasonal allergies yearly.
Broadly, some persons are sensitive to other seasonal changes, such as changes in air pressure, temperature, and humidity, which could make them experience frequent fatigue, headache, or other conditions that trigger depression.
In 1999, a Journal of Affective Disorders examined the etiology of seasonal depression and the likelihood of genetics being a risk factor. The study examined older studies that tried to identify genes linked to seasonal changes in mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.
The report from the study was able to analyze the relationship between seasonal changes, genes, and depression across three themes: familiality, heritability, and molecular genetic research.
On familiality, the study found that up to 17% of first-degree relatives showed signs of being affected by seasonal depression, showing that similar seasonal depression can occur in people with familial connections.
The core study on heritability focused on a cohort of twins and found that a number of traits could account for seasonal changes in mood in men and women.
Molecular genetic research indicated that a gene, 5-HTTLPR, related to serotonin is associated with seasonal depression.
These results are not well-defined and are subject to more research trying to identify how different genes affect the development of MDD with seasonal pattern.
Although you may have no apparent reason to be anxious, studies have shown that there is a link between spring and anxiety. Springtime usually comes with the pressure to be social and excited.
This pressure is often subconscious and could be more pronounced when you see other people engaging in exciting outdoor activities, but you feel too anxious or barely excited enough to be part of the activities.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of having a negative body image from gaining weight in the winter and not feeling like you would be back in shape in time for summer. Consequently, you may gradually start slipping into depression.
For some others, it’s a matter of wishing everything would be calm around them once again—no jamborees nor people with supercharged energies all around.
Harboring these spring expectations while things keep happening otherwise could deteriorate your mental health in spring and aggravate your anxiety or depression in the spring.
When seasonal depression (solely in the context of winter blues) became a subject of curiosity and study in the psychiatric community, light therapy was one of the most recommended remedies.
Patients would try as much as they could to get at least thirty minutes of natural light daily. Over time, the light therapy box, which emits very bright light, came into the picture. Patients do notice changes in their mood after a light therapy session.
The science behind light therapy is that sunlight influences chemical changes in the brain, which boosts the release of behavioral hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine.
However, just as mimicking sunlight helps some people feel better in winter, the transition to longer daylight in springtime could influence chemical changes that worsen the symptoms of seasonal depression in the spring in some individuals. Excessive sunlight exposure could lead to the overproduction of melatonin, which could affect your sleep pattern.
Outside the influence of light on hormones, changes in your activities or pattern, such as working too much, not eating properly, or having little sleep, could lead to a change in the release of certain hormones. And as a result, a change in your mood.
Symptoms of Depression in the Spring
Some common symptoms of springtime depression include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Disinterest in social activities
- Low energy
- Suicidal thoughts
- Unhealthy sleeping patterns—difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
How to Improve Your Mental Health in Spring
Here are a few tips to help keep your spring mental health in top shape and manage symptoms of depression in the spring.
- Be self-aware: With all the many activities that may be happening at home, in your social circle, or at work, it helps to know when to stop and take a breather. Know the things or activities that exhaust or stress you the most, and take breaks as often as you can. Practice mindfulness.
- Have a structure: skip all the things that don’t matter and prioritize yourself and the things/activities that matter. Having a lot of things in-between can disorient you, limit your focus, and provide a sense of unfulfillment when you can’t manage all.
- Sleep better: During spring, daylight sometimes extends long into the evening, which makes you more energized and more likely to want to be active well into the night. Unfortunately, insufficient sleep can stress your body and worsen your depression. As part of having a structure, you should map your days to allow yourself time to have enough sleep.
- Socialize: If you’re uncomfortable with social activities in large groups, you can schedule indoor activities with your small circle of friends. Building friendships can significantly improve your mental health in spring and help deal with the symptoms of springtime depression. All it could take could be an outdoor cookout with a few of your friends or relatives every other weekend or game sessions every other day.
- Pick a hobby: It could be gardening, getting a pet, remodeling your house, rearranging your rooms, or building a birdhouse. Anything that helps you go through a creative process and relieves you of stress while at it.
Craft Medical: Talk to an Expert
As we can see, “Can seasonal depression happen in the spring?” is a question that unpacks a lot of information that doesn’t always make it to the seasonal depression discussion, which often focuses on winter blues.
A lot of people go through spring and summer feeling like they should be more excited about the seasons, but they aren’t. Any number of factors could be the reason for your seasonal depression in spring, and you may be approaching the solutions wrongly because you’re yet to determine the root cause and the proper treatment.
Is stress the cause of your depression? Are you feeling depressed in spring, and nothing you do seems to uplift your mood? Then it’s time to talk to a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.
At Craft Medical, our mission is to help you live a healthy life while maintaining privacy and confidentiality. We can help you treat and overcome your seasonal depression and help you be YOU again.