SAD in Spring: Spring Can Make Mental Illness Symptoms Worse

February 22, 2012 Angela McClanahan

Yesterday morning, Bob said something I've never heard him say before: "I need to see my doctor." (He was referring to his psychiatrist.)

I asked why, and his answer was clear: "Because I can't sleep." I felt awful for him, he looked almost near tears.

He's not the only one. Every morning, as we inch closer to Spring, I find it more difficult to get to sleep (and stay asleep), and more difficult to awake and rise in the morning (What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD]?).

What the what? Winter worsens depression--that's easy to understand. Shouldn't we be turning cartwheels in March and April? And with the relatively mild and snow-free winter we've had, shouldn't we already be pretty doggone happy?

Maybe not. Evidence supports an increase in some people's depression symptoms in the Spring. SAD isn't just what most people consider winter blues--it's a more complex disorder not limited to winter. While winter symptoms of SAD may include depression, hopelessness, oversleeping, and weight gain, spring and summer symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and poor appetite. It also notes people with bipolar disorder may or may not experience mood changes that coincide with the onset of spring, including mania or hypomania.

Dr. Cecilia M. Ford notes some SAD sufferers "can (have) a remission at the end of February or March and then a sudden, acute exacerbation in spring." Dr. Ford states this may be partially attributable to the comparison factor: the depressed person witnesses others enjoying spring and feeling generally happier, leading them to feel worse.

Of course, as I have briefly discussed before, there is a strong link between mental health and allergies. Studies have indicated (and parents have sworn) some children find relief from ADHD by eliminating certain foods and chemicals from their diets. Inhalant allergies typically peak in the spring and fall, giving sufferers good reason to feel miserable--but research indicates allergies can exacerbate depressive symptoms in persons with clinical depression. And in typical "cure is worse than the disease" fashion, antihistamines can trigger insomnia and anxiety in some patients.

To make a very long story short--there are plenty of reasons why a child (or adult) may be less than springy in the spring. The daunting question parents must ask is, "What's causing this 'spring fever' and what do we do about it?" Given the many possible answers, narrowing it down can seem like an impossible task.

It seems I write about this phenomenon every year and never seem to get closer to a solution. (I'm sure that's largely attributable to my own sluggishness this time of year.) I wonder if anything can be done, or if "March Madness" is just something Bob and I--and countless others--will just have to endure?

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2012, February 22). SAD in Spring: Spring Can Make Mental Illness Symptoms Worse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

December, 2 2012 at 7:12 pm

Thank you so much for bringing this up. The vast majority of people think that only winter causes depression, but I am a bipolar type II, and I have Never been affected by the onset of winter or the duration of winter, but I have always had a hideous struggle with the worsening of depression in spring (I don't want to get out of bed, I either have no appetite or I eat three times my body weight every day, suicidal thoughts, you name it; one early April it got so bad that I had to go out on disability for a month until things normalized), and both my psychiatrist and psychologist have informed me that I am not alone any stretch of the imagination. I wish you and your son the best; overtime, after I switch to a different mood stabilizer, this is been less of a problem for me, but it is still very much in evidence – it's just not as severe. Thank you for your blog.

J. Massie
May, 15 2013 at 7:30 am

I'm seeing this pattern in my non verbal autistic son. He doesn't seem to have allergies. But his anxiety levels reduce him to tears, and his heart races. Off we go back to his dr.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 23 2013 at 5:49 am

Hiya J,
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. You're very aware of your son's patterns and that is awesome. You already have the tools you need to get your son the help he needs. Keep it up and please come visit again soon!

Elizabeth Lambert
April, 4 2017 at 12:55 pm

I am feeling awful from anxiety and all I want to do is sleep. I upped my clonazepam with the doctor's okay. I feel barely able to manage daily tasks and force myself to go the two hours of a job I normally enjoy.I fought with my friend.It isn't fun.

Protyush Das
April, 12 2017 at 11:24 pm

thanks a lot.. it being April I am really facing it.. and on Googling it I found your article and it's really awesome..

March, 25 2018 at 3:57 am

spring is disaster for me. I feel anxiety and my OCD getting worse. I do not no whether there is any special diet makes me feel better if anyone knows I appreciate help me. thanks

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 27 2020 at 7:27 pm

Me too!!!!

June, 6 2018 at 6:46 pm

I’m in health care and have reluctantly put off the possibility of bi-polar disorder, but every spring, something just is out of wack! I feel depressed, moodiness, fatigue and thoughts of death. I cry and feel hopeless and alone. I used to think it was from SAD. I see it’s not so much the winter as it is spring for many others as well. Thanks for the post

April, 22 2019 at 3:50 pm

I didn't realise others felt this way. Every early spring and summer I dread. I am unemployed so my days are looking for work, worrying about money and generally miserable. I did a bike ride today given we had 20 degrees yesterday which is too hot for me and although I need exercise I didn't really enjoy it. I live alone but have family close by who try to help. They know I don't like socialising much when I am anxious. I hate the lighter mornings and evenings. It is the middle of April and it';s still light until 8:30pm. I don't like lighter days as were I live people have cars where they rev their engines and have a lot of kids around. I didn't know this until I moved 6 years ago. I cant afford to go out much so when the sun comes out I feel sad I can't enjoy it like I used to as a child. I long for early autumn (granted don't care for fireworks in november) but I sleep better in the winter. I have acid reflux problems that seem to worsen in the warmer weather so I really feel lost and miserable. I am trying therapy with Talking Matters but hope everyone else can feel better. I just don't know why I have lost interest in spring and summer. I can't wait for September to come back.

April, 25 2019 at 5:32 pm

This is my first research on SAD.. today I figured it out that, for almost 4 years now i always feel the same way on spring time, exactly these months.
Im irritated, anxious, problems with breath, nausea, cant get enough sleep, death thoughts, melancholic, regrettably thinking of the past, ocd enhanced.. i just think this will last forever and i want to isolate myself from everything.. i get so easily triggered by others, especially those close to me. I just cant...

March, 8 2020 at 4:49 pm

Hello, I have suffered from spring SAD, all my life quite mildly (a general melancholia, some hyper-ness and inability to feel "settled", problems sleeping etc). It became very severed when I moved to a northern country (north of the UK) from the Mediterranean one I originate from, about 14 years ago.
It always starts around the 10th of March and stops around the 10th of June. It's that predictable!
From my experience but also research I have conducted I thing it is related with the sudden change in light, which affects the production of hormones in our body, such as serotonin and melatonin. In countries further from the equator, the change in light is much steeper between the winter and summer and therefore our hormones have to adapt more quickly which for some is easier than others. If you already suffer from a hormonal imbalance (eg you have depression or other condition) then the change is more challenging for you and the adaptation takes longer.
Interestingly after talking to a Horticulturist they explained the dates I mentioned in fact almost coincide with the spring equinox start and finish, and explained she also struggles every year, but once summer equinox starts (around 20th of June).
One of my friends from Finland told me that in their country the term "spring blues" is as common as we say "winter blues" and people are more understanding of themselves and others as a result in relation to low feelings around that time. In fact my Italian friend (from the North of the country) told me that they also recognise the effects of spring on people's state of mind, and if they or someone else act differently they would say "it's just the spring, it will pass". Unfortunately the research on SAD is disproportionately focusing on the winter version so spring SAD is not understood or misunderstood, even by experts. I find it is downgrading the condition when various experts insinuate that the reasons behind spring SAD are related to individuals comparing themselves to others and how they "should" be feeling at that season, neglecting to refer first and foremost the environmental and biological factors as well. We completely accept the need for "light nutrition" that a winter SAD suffered is in need of, and we are empathising with them, yet spring SAD sufferers are made to look often as miserable people with no perspective... I hope the research intensifies and the narrative changes soon, so that tangible solutions are found for this issue as well.

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