Seasonal depression is a patterned mood disorder. People usually associate it with winter, when colder months and shorter days make people feel sluggish, agitated, and hopeless. But seasonal depression can also occur in the summer when stifling heat, more sunlight, and social stressors take over.

“Seasonal affective disorder experiences symptoms of depression during a particular season,” says Dr. Christine Crawford, associate medical director at The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “The symptoms are sometimes severe enough to meet the criteria for major depressive disorder.”

USA TODAY spoke with Crawford about factors that can trigger summer season depression, who is most at risk, and how to cope with those who suffer.

Q: What Causes Summer Season Depression?

Christine Crawford: (In) the summer months, even though there is a lot of sunlight, there are a lot of other factors, especially environmental and social factors, that can make people more likely to have symptoms of depression.

Research has looked at exposure to pollen levels and found that for some people in the summer months when exposed to more pollen, it makes them more agitated and irritable, which can affect their mood and their daily routine—vision of life.

Some people have to rely on darkness to kick-start their circadian rhythm, to know it’s time to go to bed. Those daylight hours that the summer months provide can negatively affect some people’s sleep/wake cycles. If you don’t sleep, regulating your mood during the day is harder.

Q: What are some of the social and environmental factors that can contribute to seasonal summer depression?

Crawford: The summer months can mean a significant change in daily structure and routine for some people. They may not get the normal sleep they used to get, or they may no longer participate in certain activities to keep them physically active, ensuring they are socially connected.

We have been socialized to believe that summer equals happiness. And seeing everyone wear their summer outfits, go on vacation, and show off their toned and fit physique, for some people can impact their overall self-esteem and contribute to psychological stress.

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Q: Are some people more vulnerable to seasonal depression in the summer?

Crawford: If you are someone who already has trouble sleeping, can fall asleep, and stays asleep on a regular schedule, it’s very important to talk to your primary care provider about what options are available to help ensure you get a good night’s sleep. SNot being well rested can increase your chances of developing symptoms of depression. Sleep.

People with a family history of depression are also more at risk. People may experience significant stressors that affect their ability to maintain structure, routine, good sleep, exercise, and social support. All these things are important for a generally good mood.

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Q: Are there gender differences in sensitivity?

Crawford: In general, seasonal affective disorder affects women four times more often than men. When we think about some of these changes in routines during the summer months, the most important are school and the shift in caregiver responsibilities, which can be quite stressful for certain family members.

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Many parents do not have the time and flexibility in their schedule to self-care because they prioritize the health and well-being of their children. It can cause tremendous stress when you go from a situation where there is a lot of support to being the one to come up with all the activities for the kids and how to keep them entertained. At the same time, you are exhausted and run on little energy.

Sometimes, we can overdo it in the summer, especially when trying to make the summer as meaningful, memorable, and fun as possible for our kids.

Q: If you are experiencing summer-season depression symptoms, how can you treat them?

Crawford: I encourage people to set boundaries and know how to set clear boundaries with people regarding what they’re willing to do in the summer. We’re often used to saying yes to everything so as not to disappoint other people or turn down certain invitations, but it’s OK to skip that brunch or trip to the beach when you need to sleep in and have to take care of yourself.

Sleep well. …There’s a particular form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia that can be a really helpful tool that people can use on their own.

If you’re having a hard time, tell people you trust. Sometimes part of self-care is knowing how to let other people take care of you.

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