Even when its chilly outside, getting some sun can help prevent depression. [Photo: Bigstock]

Sunshine a key ‘nutrient’ for mental health

14 November, 2016

Natural Health News − No matter what else is going on in the natural environment, sunshine, it seems, is particularity important for our mental and emotional health.

Several studies have attempted to look at the weather’s effect on mood, but say scientists from Brigham Young University, this new study is different because of how it was put together.

To analyse links between mental health and the weather, three scientists coordinated data from their individual fields.

Mark Beecher, clinical professor and licensed psychologist in BYU Counselling and Psychological Services, was able to provide insight into the times emotional distress was most reported using emotional health data from clients.

Meanwhile, his colleagues Lawrence Rees, a physics professor at BYU, had access to weather data and BYU statistics professor Dennis Eggett was drafted in to identify links.

What you need to know

» Weather can have a profound effect on health, both physical and emotional.

» New research shows that of all the variables, the amount of sunshine we are exposed to daily is the has the most influence on mental and emotional health during the winter.

» This is true for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and for the general population and doctors and therapists should be ready with preventative strategies to help patients cope better.

Never mind the rain

The study took 19 different weather variables into account including wind chill, rainfall, solar irradiance, wind speed, temperature and more.

Notably, they found that days with a high amount of sunshine, even when they were interspersed with cloudy or stormy moments, appeared to have the most positive impact on our wellbeing.

“That’s one of the surprising pieces of our research,” said Beecher. “On a rainy day, or a more polluted day, people assume that they’d have more distress. But we didn’t see that.

The study only looked at the links between sunshine and mental health, rather than delving into the reasons behind these links.

However, several studies have suggested our vitamin D levels may influence our mental health. One international review in 2014 looked at more than 100 leading articles on the subject.

This study, reported in the journal Medical Hypotheses, found that that vitamin D is likely to be a contributing factor in seasonal depression.

Be prepared

The authors of the current study suggest that the link between lack of sunshine and emotional distress holds true for the general population and not just those diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

According to Beecher, 2ith fewer sun time hours, clients will be particularly vulnerable to emotional distress. Therapists should be aware that winter months will be a time of high demand for their services – and they should be prepared with preventative advice.

Such prevention strategies can include:

  • Vitamin D3 supplements (avoid synthetic vitamin D2)
  • Full-spectrum light bulbs and/or light box
  • Spend as much time as possible outdoors

For more on this topic see our article Seasonal affective disorder – managing the dark days naturally