Is it true depression and suicide rates are high in Summer?


On an average day, 23 South Africans lose their lives to suicide and counter-intuitively more of these lives are lost when the sun is out.

The latest studies seem to suggest that there is little correlation between mental well-being and warm weather.

Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics says we instinctively believe that warm weather makes us happier, when in fact it’s often quite the opposite.

“In spring, there is a tremendous pressure to be happy. The sky is blue, the days are getting warmer and longer and events like weddings, braais and parties abound.

The contrast between what we think we should feel (joy, happiness) and what we may feel (sad, anxious, irritated or uncomfortable with our body) can lead to feelings of depression.

“People who are vulnerable to suicidal behaviour face more challenges when the weather warms and social interaction increases. Those who are struggling may feel left out of social engagements – essentially, they feel that the isolation of winter has withdrawn for everyone else except for them,” she says.

Another school of thought attributes the increase in sunshine directly to the spike in suicides during springtime. Some psychologists contend that sunshine can actually give people who have been feeling tired and worn-out by the lack of sunlight during winter enough energy to plan and carry out a suicide, yet not sufficient to give them an emotional boost.

Van Aswegen points out that people suffering from allergies, particularly hayfever, are at a higher risk of depression.

“Headaches, sleeplessness and fatigue associated with allergies are all symptoms of depression as well.

Studies also confirm that changes in allergy symptoms during low and high pollen seasons correspond to changes in patients’ depression and anxiety scores.

“You may rationalise that if you don’t feel good in spring, when the world is renewing itself, you are probably never going to, but it’s important to remember that even though it may seem as if everyone else is having a wonderful time frolicking in the sun, many are not and are confronted by the same issues as you are”.

Most people feel sad or low at some point in their lives, but clinical depression is marked by a depressed mood most of the day and a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships.

Symptoms of clinical depression may include tiredness or loss of energy almost every day, significant weight-loss or gain, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, impaired concentration, insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) and a diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities.

If any of the above symptoms continue for longer than two weeks, Van Aswegen offers the following advice:

* Seek help from a psychologist or another mental health practitioner. They

will be able to teach you ways to ‘reframe’ your mind and to think more positively about your situation, which leads to better self-control and improvements in mood.

In some cases, medication may also be helpful.

* Exercise is a great way to boost your mood and self-confidence.

*Try to get at least eight hours of sleep every day.

* Recognise that you are not alone in feeling depressed. Spring is particularly hard on single, divorced or widowed people.

Major depression affects about one in three South African adults, 8.3% of adolescents and 2.5 % of children.

Meanwhile, students are encouraged to seek help when feeling depressed or lonely.

This may result due to exams, peer pressure or disadvantaged family background, amongst others.

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