Exposure to sunlight may affect mental health

Luis Britez
Staff Writer

With the pressure of school and the drama from this past election, it is important to remember to take in some sunshine in order to stabilize any emotional distress you could be experiencing. Not absorbing enough sunlight, on the contrary, will cause your distress levels to spike up.

This is what clinical professor Mark Beecher, Ph.D., and physics professor Lawrence Rees, Ph.D., from Brigham Young University proposed based on their research.

What started out as a casual conversation about run-of-the-mill topics and the amount of clients Beecher was seeing during stormy weather turned into a full study analyzing BYU’s clinical and weather data.

Beecher, who is also a licensed psychologist in BYU’s counseling and psychological services, regularly sees clinical patients dealing with emotional distress. With the topic in mind, they began their study by examining solar irradiance, or the amount of sunlight that actually hits the ground. They also took into account how cloudy days, rainy days and pollution played a role in the amount of clinical visits. With none of those factors yielding much result, they put a spotlight on the amount of sunrise and sunset and how this correlated with the amount of clinical visits.

Beecher noted specifically in his statement to the public that “therapists should be aware that winter months will be a time of high demand for their services. With fewer sun time hours, clients will be particularly vulnerable to emotional distress.”

While others have tried studying weather effects and a person’s mood in the past, the results were mixed. The study performed by Beecher and Rees vastly improved previous research through many modifications.

With the help of BYU statistics professor Dennis Eggett, Ph.D,, they analyzed a variety of meteorological variables such as solar irradiance, rainfall and temperature. Their center of interest was on a clinical population, rather than a general population — Beecher’s access to clinical records greatly aided in that.

The use of a mental health treatment outcome examined several aspects of psychological distress, instead of having a reliance of online diaries and suicidal intentions of a clinical patient.

Weather data collected from BYU’s physics and astronomy weather station, pollution data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Mental and emotional health data from BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center were all vital assets to come to the conclusion of their study.

The weather data, in particular, was important in monitoring the weather where the clients lived minute per minute.

While it may seem as if this study would only apply for patients only diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, it also applies to clinical population as well.

With winter weather coming around the corner along with the days shortening, try to spend some more time outside when it is sunny out. While the cold temperatures are not optimal to be outside the entire day, even a little bit of sunlight can help you out in the long run.

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