Summer-time blues: seasonal affected disorder.

In one of those calendar quirks today the 15th July happens to be St Swithin’s Day and also the first Saturday of the Glasgow Fair. St Swithin’s Day as many of you might remember from the rhymes of childhood is a day when according to tradition, whatever the weather is like on St Swithin’s Day – whether rainy or sunny – it will continue for the next 40 days and 40 nights.

‘St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain

Full forty days, it will remain

St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair

For forty days, twill rain no more.’

Now I am no meteorologist, but I doubt the late St Swithin, the Bishop of Winchester in the 800s, has much influence over the weather. But it would not at all surprise me that on this first day of the Fair that the rain is pouring somewhere in the west.

As a child growing up the Glasgow Fair was very important. It was the time of year when my family made our annual pilgrimage to Skye to visit grandparents, and to allow my father to turn the day job into a fortnight of shearing sheep, picking potatoes and having more than the occasional dram to catch up with friends and relatives. It was also a time when it was either sweltering heat or continual rain – so good old St Swithin might have known a thing or two.

The story of the Fair is an interesting one. Historically it’s the oldest ‘Fair’ of its type and dates back to the 12th century and indeed up until the late 19th century markets and fairs were always held around the fields and green spaces around Glasgow Cathedral.

Before the 1960s it was commonplace for most businesses, factories and the shipyards to close on ‘Fair Friday’ to allow workers and their families to attend, and for folks to take their holidays by going “doon the watter” to the Ayrshire coast. Today whilst the name lives on people in the city take their holidays at many and diverse times to fit into a very changed pattern of work and leisure. You are likely to see many more Glaswegians in the streets of Palma and Albufeira than in Ardrossan and Troon.

The way we holiday may have changed but for many people taking a couple of weeks off in the summer has become almost a ritual. This year I have heard of families who despite the pressure of money and the cost-of-living crisis trying their best to give especially their children some time away even if it is just another part of Scotland.  I have also been having quite a few social media chats and DMs around the issue of holidays at this time of year from staff who work in social care struggling to make ends meet to older people who struggle with holidays per se both on the grounds of finance and also in the sense that their normal contacts and routines are so changed that it often leads them to feel so much more alone and lonely during the summer months.

Holidays are very often hard times for people for so many reasons. The loss of routine can be hard for all ages. The constant being together with people who you may not always get on with in new environments can be stressful. The process of travelling, staying in a new place, feeling you need to keep children entertained and amused – a lot of family holidays whilst fun can be the complete opposite. And in soaring temperatures tempers can become frayed and strained. Dealing with heat and humidity can be very hard for many people.

Like many of you I am well acquainted with SAD (seasonal affected disorder) and having worked in Orkney for a while was very aware of the impact the short days and long winter nights could have on the mental health and wellbeing of people. What I have been less well aware of is the impact of summer and of summer holidays on folks.

I recently came across a fascinating article by Michelle Pugle which explore the issue of Summertime SAD. It states that summer affected disorder whilst less common is just as serious. It argues that we all of us, not least those who support others, need to become much more aware of the impacts of summer and the holiday season on the health and wellbeing of people, not least as the impacts of global warming and climate change are worsening as the years go by.

“It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and while most seasonal episodes of depression occur in the winter, up to 30 percent of people [with seasonal depression] will experience summer depression…

People with summer-pattern seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — aka “reverse SAD” — typically experience common symptoms of depression for about four to five months each year when the weather is warmer.”

It goes on to detail the effects of such depression, such as feeling sad or low most days, having lower energy levels, losing interest in activities and relationships, insomnia, loss of appetite, agitation and restlessness.

The article also suggests some coping mechanisms which those who care for and support others might find useful including, identifying summertime triggers ( maybe the heat and humidity, loss of role, changes in family, issues of body image); make sleep a priority ( find out what helps you sleep in the hot nights and accentuate your sleep but do not try and sleep outwith normal patterns) ; develop a routine for the time and keep to it ( it can help you feel more motivated and put-together); attend and make space for your emotions; avoid the traps which can often make you depressed such as eating when you’re bored, but not hungry; playing video games or being on your phone for hours; drinking excessive amounts of alcohol); and build self-care into your routine.

Holiday time and summer-time are undeniable escapes for many but they bring burden and challenge to some and those who work in and receive social care and support are no exception.

So on St Swithin’s Day and during the Glasgow (or any other holiday) Fair let us look after ourselves and others.

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Deep Trivedi on Unsplash