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Heat Waves: Elevated Concerns for Seasonal Affective Disorder


Over the past few years, the summers have become unbearable for everyone in most countries. People can’t enjoy and have fun in the summers as they used to. The heat has become more harsh and intense in recent years, restricting you from stepping out. As per the recently conducted surveys, the heat has left Americans to stay indoors or go to places with air conditioners. 

Mental health experts found that restricting people from going out or disrupting their day-to-day schedule will result in mental health conditions like SAD, commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a type of depression that primarily occurs due to weather changes. SAD is highly observed during winters and summers if the season reaches an extreme stage. 

As per the discussion with ABC News, Dr. Paul Desan stated that extreme summers, in combination with a disturbed schedule, can lead to symptoms like agitation and aggression, raising the need for professional counseling.

Dr. Paul Desan further added that we have only limited summer SAD data as of now, but still, they are alerting the nations as climate change in the forthcoming years will affect more and more people. 

There is no doubt that a sudden increase in temperatures will cause psychological distress that has unwanted outcomes.


A man sitting in front of a fan due to heatwaves.


What is SAD?

SAD stands out as an acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which was first identified back in the 80s by psychiatric researchers. SAD, commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, can happen to anyone at any time without any prior symptoms. As per the studies, the highest number of SAD cases are reported in the winter, when days are quite shorter than other seasons. While going through SAD in winter, you may encounter symptoms like tiredness, lethargy, lack of energy, etc.

The primary reason behind the occurrence of SAD in winter is decreased sunlight across the country. Besides, there are various regions in the US where sunlight doesn’t make its way to the ground for weeks. If you are someone going through winter SAD, you might be prescribed bright light therapy. In this therapy, a patient is required to sit in the bright light outside for at least 30 minutes in the morning. This therapy seems highly effective and leads to fruitful outcomes in treating the winter SAD.

As per the research by the American Psychiatric Association, there are approximately 5% of Americans who encounter winter SAD every year. The symptoms of SAD persist for at least 4 to 5 months in a patient. Desean, a member of the American Psychiatric Association, found that winter SAD is usually common in people who are living away from the equator.

Statistics reveal that winter SAD affected 9% people of the total population in Alaska, whereas only 1% in Florida out of the total population.

As mentioned, the SAD is more common in winter than summer. In summers, these cases are reported fewer than in winters, with symptoms like agitation, irritability, and aggression.

Doctors said that the most common symptom of summer SAD is depression. In extreme cases, you might be recommended for anti-depressant medications. One can have depression in the form of irritability, aggression, and agitation due to summer SAD. And with each passing year, symptoms are worsening as the heatwaves across the globe increase.

Over the last few years, the spike in suicide attempts has increased due to peak summers.

According to Desan, a large number of people haven’t been forced to stay indoors due to the heat in previous years, and mental health professionals would mistake the symptoms for other types of depression. As a result, there haven't been as many clinical trials for summer SAD.

Summer Heat Dome Constructing Concerns-

The west, southwest, and south parts of the US get through the high temperatures every year during summer. Experts say that the temperature in these regions of the US has been increasing over the years, which is likely to result in more summer SAD cases. 

Some regions in the US, like Phoenix and Arizona, have seen temperatures of more than 110 degrees over 31 days. Health authorities alert the residents of the city to avoid long hours of outdoor activities. Spending long hours in such high temperatures can make you more prone to summer SAD. Therefore, it is advised that if you are living in a city or state where the temperature is really high, stay indoors and hydrated to prevent yourself from conditions like summer SAD. 

According to Desan, those who live in heat domes will experience short-term changes in their mental health as a result of these activity restrictions.

He further added, "You never want to lose focus of all the things you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle for life." The symptoms of SAD will appear and grow when you are unable to see your friends and family, go for a morning stroll, or maintain your normal schedule for days or weeks.

In addition to the above, people who cannot access air conditioners or cool places for days and weeks due to personal reasons are prone to see more negative effects on their mental health. However, the number of symptoms and their intensity may vary from one sufferer to another.

He observed that during this summer's wildfire smoke that covered the Midwest and East for days and restricted outside time, the feelings of despair were identical for residents in the north. 

He claimed that experiences obtained by climate change also caused mental health problems associated with fear and hopelessness.

How can People Fight Against it?

Researchers assumed that in the upcoming years, the data related to summer SAD will be higher than ever as mental health professionals are treating summer SAD cases accompanied by heat waves.

They further added doctors and other professionals need to be more active and alert now and in upcoming months. They need to observe the symptoms carefully and mindfully that patients are having.

There is no dedicated treatment or any other medical solution available to treat this condition. When you go through the SAD, you are suggested to see a mental health professional. Seeking out mental health professionals for their advice helps a lot of patients suffering from SAD.

As listed earlier, in the upcoming years, the heat waves will be increasing more than ever across the US. In order to prevent people from SAD in both seasons, public health services and the psychiatric community need to spread awareness and precautions for the condition.

Lastly, we need to think about our approach towards mental health, or else climate change will make us do so in the most unwanted way.


1. Can heat waves affect your mental health?

Yes, heat waves possess the potential to affect one’s mental health. You may experience the following symptoms: listlessness, insomnia, irritability, anger, stress, and depression. Therefore, you should avoid stepping out during unbearable hot days. The long hours of exposure to heat waves make you prone to go through such symptoms. 

2. What is the most likely cause of seasonal affective disorder?

There is no evident cause available for seasonal affective disorder. However, it is assumed that shorter daåys and less sunlight could lead to it. The primary reason may vary from one sufferer to another. Therefore, to find out the precise cause of it, you must seek medical help. 

3. Can heat trigger my anxiety?

Heat can result in an increased amount of stress hormone known as Cortisol, which may exaggerate one’s anxiety symptoms. As per studies, it is observed that stress hormone seems to be higher during hot months than in cold months. Hence, if you are someone going through anxiety disorder, try to minimize your exposure to heat to prevent symptoms from worsening during hot summer days

4. What are three health problems that can occur during a heat wave?

Heatwaves can result in various health problems such as dehydration, heat stroke, heat cramps, heat rash, etc. Therefore, you must be careful while heading out during summer. When you step out, please adhere to precautions like wearing sunscreen and full-sleeve clothes, taking a water bottle along, and avoiding long exposure to heatwaves. 

Medically Reviewed By:

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(Dr. A. Sharma, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist and a medical writer with 10 years of clinical experience. He strives to empower patients to understand their medications so that they become better healthcare advocates.)


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