For children, teens, and college students, summertime is associated with freedom from school and positive emotions. However, summer can also be a time where certain mental health issues need to be tended to even more than usual. Out of school time is also a large adjustment for parents caring for children over the summer without the respite that school can bring.
Anxiety issues can also come to the surface due in part to the lack of structure that summer brings. Though most young people claim this is the time of year they most look forward to, many become listless and irritable because of a lack of structured activity.
Adults can experience the same mental health issues as children during the summer, especially depression and anxiety. The National Alliance on Mental Illness website suggests that some people can actually experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the summer. SAD is characterized by depressive episodes that occur during certain times of the year (typically during the winter). In the case of seasonal affective disorder that is experienced during the summer, symptoms tend to be weight loss, minimal appetite, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
According to Psychology Today, Researchers who study the effect of vacations on well-being, attitude, and other related variables have found that it is actually the “looking forward to” aspect of a vacation that provides the mood lift as compared to the “just returned from the Caribbean and back at work” mindset that follows. In fact, it appears that a single multi-week vacation is no more refreshing or revitalizing that a couple of days or long weekend at a nearby getaway spot. This is because looking forward to a break in routine—in spring, summer, or any other season—positively influences our mood and brings us happiness and an optimistic frame of mind.
The key to staying mentally healthy over the summer is to be preventative. Here are some tips for each age group:
Children: Setting play dates with other kids or sending them to a day-care program where they do outside activities can keep their minds occupied and also help with socialization. This is key to preventing isolating behaviors later on in life.
Teens: Having a part-time summer job is the most important thing they can do to protect their mental health. They will learn the importance of a work ethic; earn money (which they can then spend on fun activities), and prevent boredom—the number one offender during summer breaks.
College students: Having an internship or continuing to work on their educational goals will keep them focused and driven, preventing depression and other detrimental behaviors associated with the disorder.
For adults, it can be unfortunate to be stuck inside working when the weather is gorgeous (especially in Buffalo where are summers are second to none though not as long as we’d like!) This can be just another trigger for depression and other mental illnesses like substance-related disorders. Adults need to utilize their vacation days properly so they have something to look forward to and get to experience summertime weather on days other than the weekend. Making time for outdoor activities on the weekend and starting an exercise program will keep one’s mood elevated.
Start the Conversation
As one in four people experience a mental health problem each year, talking openly about mental health has the potential to make life better for all of us. Though the stigma surrounding mental illness can sometimes make talking about it seem difficult – It doesn’t have to be! Here are some ways to get the conversation started…
Get some fresh air with someone
Talking doesn’t have to start with talking. Sometimes it can start with walking. If you spend a big part of your day inside, ask someone if they’d like to get some fresh air and see where the conversation takes you.
REALLY ask a friend ‘How are you?’
It can be difficult to keep count how many times you’re asked ‘how are you?’ in one day. But for many of us it can be much easier to count just how many times you give the real answer. Pick up your phone and catch up with someone you haven’t managed to for a while. A little uneasy talking face-to-face? Then just check-in with a friend or loved one via text or email.
Tell someone how you’re feeling today
Revealing how you’re feeling can be daunting. But if it’s someone you trust, being open can often inspire an open response and an honest conversation. Just be sure you only say as much as you are comfortable doing so.
Thank someone for something they’ve done for you
We don’t always realize the impact of the small things we naturally do for others on a daily basis. An unprompted ‘thank you’ is a nice way to show someone how much you value them and open up a conversation in ways you may not expect.
Find out what someone does to unwind on a tough day
Sharing ideas on how to relax is an interesting and helpful way to start a conversation about mental health for all involved. Not only could it prompt a colleague or loved one to take a look at how they manage their wellbeing, you may also pick up a few tips for yourself!
If you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health issue, help is available. There are a variety of organizations and programs across Western New York standing by to assist children, adolescents, adults and families with prevention, treatment and recovery. You are not alone in your mental health journey. Reaching out to a trusted resource is the first step to getting the support you need. Click here to see the wealth of resources that are available.