Avoiding Common Summertime Mental Health Pitfalls

Ahhhh, summer.…I can almost hear the collective sighs from adults and children alike as we anticipate the freedom and fun that await us in the coming months.  For many of us, summer represents a (slightly) slower pace, more vacations, and time to relax and recharge.  However, summer can also be an important time to maintain and strengthen our mental health.  It is also a time when some people experience frustrating – and often unexpected – setbacks.  As you gear up for a great summer, here are some things to keep in mind:

ADHD –The less-structured days of summer pose potential setbacks for children with ADHD, for whom structure is so important.  Plan ahead to maintain a moderate-to-high amount of structure on summer days.  Involve children in the planning process.  Set aside some time early in the summer to create an “I’m bored” list with kids.  Sometimes summer presents an opportunity for time off stimulant medications.  This adjustment may not always be without problems.  Always discuss “summer breaks” from medication (or any changes in medication) with your doctor before making the adjustment.

Depression – It is important to get outside and enjoy the summer and to encourage social interaction.  Loneliness in depressed children is often amplified in the summer months when a greater effort must be made to be around peers, without the obvious commonality of the school day.  Increased time spent online, playing video games, and watching TV can lead to increased isolation and increased depression.  For teens and adults with bipolar disorder, it is also important to know that summertime often is a time of increased risk for manic and hypomanic episodes.

Anxiety – Unstructured time often feeds into anxiety.  As summer represents an important transition period for many of us each year, it is a common time to experience surprising spikes in worries about what the future will hold.  Although most children say that they look forward to summer every year, many become more irritable, easily frustrated, and impatient due to changes in routine, disrupted sleep schedule, etc.  Encourage play dates or plan camps where children can enjoy varied activities and can keep their minds occupied.

The key to a successful summer is to achieve a healthy and happy balance of structure and free time.  For all of us, setting aside time for self-care activities, time with family and friends, and regular physical exercise is important to keep one’s mood and energy up and to experience the best of summer.

Paige Fegan, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist