As the seasons transition, so do our self-care needs. With summer's arrival, its warm weather and lively atmosphere present a unique opportunity for Black women to focus on their health. However, the recent acknowledgment of summer seasonal affective depression (SSAD) has highlighted the importance of considering how our self-care practices may need to shift to accommodate changing needs.
What is SSAD, and How Does It Impact Black Women?
Seasonal affective depression, typically associated with winter, has also been observed to occur during the summertime, known as Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder (SSAD). Unlike its winter counterpart, SSAD can manifest itself in:
● Feelings of sadness
● Loss of interest in activities
● Changes in appetite
● Difficulty sleeping
Many people are surprised to learn about summer seasonal affective depression. However, there are multiple causes and contributing factors to this phenomenon. The intense heat and sun exposure can lead to fatigue, lethargy, a lack of motivation, and increased irritability. Financial stress can also play a role, particularly regarding the added expenses of summer vacations and activities. Changes in routine, such as taking time off work or going on vacation, can also trigger feelings of loneliness and isolation. Lastly, body image issues can significantly distress many people during the summer, leading to negative self-esteem and depression.
For Black women who may already face unique challenges related to mental health, understanding and addressing this issue is vital for overall well-being. We already face unique experiences and intersectional factors that can significantly impact mental health within our community. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as profound sadness and a sense of everything being an effort. Moreover, Black adults below the poverty line are more than twice as likely to report experiencing serious psychological distress than those with more financial security. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that while Black people have these persistent symptoms, only 1 in three Black adults receive treatment. The underlying reason for this is racism and discrimination in the United States today.
Black women face a unique set of challenges when it comes to mental health, with intersectional factors compounding the already existing problem. According to Adam Mahoney, Black women are four times more likely to be affected by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) than Black men, whether summer or winter. This can be attributed to factors such as experiencing stress due to societal expectations and discrimination and having a higher likelihood of being in a low-income bracket. Without proper support systems and resources, Black women are more vulnerable to experiencing mental health issues, such as SSAD.
What About Black Women Who Are Already Depressed?
As someone who has always advocated for self-care, I have learned that caring for oneself varies depending on the season, especially for Black women. This is particularly true during summer and winter when certain factors can significantly impact our wellness. For someone like myself, I experience dysthymia. Dysthymia is a mood disorder that affects many individuals, including myself. Unlike major depression, dysthymia is a chronic condition lasting two or more years.
Research has shown that Black people have higher rates of dysthymia due to the impact of discrimination-based trauma. As Anahvia Taiyib Mewborn notes, the daily experience of racism and its associated traumas can weigh heavily on one's mental health. Additionally, Sean Grover highlights two other common causes of dysthymia – intergenerational depression and unresolved frustration – both of which can disproportionately affect Black women.
For Black women, dysthymia may be influenced by various factors, including experiences of misogynoir. The weight of discrimination and the struggle against racial and gender stereotypes can add to our emotional distress. Cultural expectations and societal pressures can also make seeking help or discussing our feelings challenging. Additionally, the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community can further compound the impact of dysthymia. Fear of judgment or misunderstanding may prevent us from seeking support and treatment. As a result, our symptoms may go unnoticed or untreated for longer, leading to prolonged suffering and difficulties in managing our mental health.
And when dysthymia and summer seasonal affective depression occur concurrently, it creates double depression. As someone who has experienced both dysthymia and SSAD simultaneously, I know firsthand the struggle of dealing with double depression. This condition can feel overwhelming, with chronic low-level depression compounded by the added challenges of seasonal affective disorder during summer. However, I've learned that changing my self-care routine can make a significant difference in managing double depression.
What Can Self-Care Look Like in the Summer for Black Women with SSAD?
In my experience, managing dysthymia can be challenging, and self-care is essential for maintaining mental health. As someone who has struggled with this condition, prioritizing self-care in my daily routine is crucial for my well-being. During the warmer months, I've found that my self-care routine needs to change to address the new challenges that summer presents. For me, I have to alter my self-care routine. I have to drink more water, sleep more, and do some physical activity each day.
SSAD can be challenging to manage during the warmest months of the year. It's crucial to have realistic expectations and take breaks when necessary, as attending every social event may not be possible. Cultivating supportive relationships with understanding friends and family can provide much-needed validation and comfort. Mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga can also effectively manage stress and anxiety. Limiting exposure to triggers that worsen symptoms is essential, and staying hydrated and finding ways to keep cool during hot weather can reduce discomfort.
Seeking professional support is encouraged when SSAD significantly impacts well-being, as mental health professionals can provide guidance and assistance. Prioritizing self-care activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as spending time in nature and pursuing hobbies, can improve mental well-being. Lastly, practicing sun safety by using sunscreen, hats, and clothing while spending time outdoors is vital.
To effectively combat SSAD symptoms during the summer, it is essential to recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. We all have unique needs and preferences regarding self-care, and it's crucial to identify activities that resonate with us. However, it's important to remember that what worked before may not work now, and that's okay. This is an opportunity to reflect on how your needs might change with the season. Tailoring your self-care routine to suit your unique experiences and cultural background is essential for success. Navigating SSAD during the summer can be challenging, but being kind to yourself, trying new strategies, and finding what works for you is crucial.
Sean Grover, L.C.S.W. The Keys to Understanding High-Functioning Depression.
National Alliance on Mental Health. African Americans and Mental Illness.
Stephanie Rhodes. 5 Triggers for Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Summer.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health.Mental and Behavioral Health in African Americans.