When you struggle with depression, you are faced with potential triggers and hardships at almost every turn. Diet, activity level, stress and the amount of sleep you get night after night can all influence your mood. Being aware of the individual factors is helpful in understanding depression as a mental health issue, but understanding the truth about mental health in general is even more paramount. Mental health is a complex issue that is influenced by a myriad of factors. Now research suggests that weather can also be a factor that influences an individual’s risk of experiencing depression.
A team of researchers recently found a correlation between the amount of sunlight during the day and suicide rates. Their findings, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), linked a surge in suicide rates to periods of decreased sunshine. This data suggests that individuals are more prone to severe depression and are even at a great risk of suicide during the times of the year when sunlight is at its lowest duration.
This isn’t to say that a single rainy day is enough to put an otherwise healthy individual at risk of suicide, but it does provide valuable information into the factors that affect suicide and depression.
Depression, especially the sort of severe and chronic depression that is associated with suicide, is a form of mood disorder. An individual with depression experiences fluctuations in hormones and neurotransmitters, the chemicals that travel throughout our nervous system to and from our brain. When levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are low, your risk for depression is heightened. Researchers have found that any sudden change in weather can actually influence stability in mental health, increasing an individual’s risk for suicide. In this context, it isn’t so much that a lack of sunshine can lead to increased risk of depression and suicide, but instead that any sudden change in weather patterns can become a mental health trigger for individuals who are already showing signs of depression.
This being said, it is true that increased exposure to the sun can help improve your mental health level. Being out in the sunshine can help reduce your risk of depression by helping to moderate and in some contexts naturally stimulate your hormone levels. This helps to promote positive fluctuations in mood, which can combat depression—especially when done in conjunction with treatment or use of medication.
Of course, it simply being sunny outside isn’t enough to combat depression entirely. Yes, seeing the sun shine through your windows in the early evening hours or waking up to a bright sky in the morning will help reduce your risk of depression by naturally increasing your exposure to the sun, but taking the initiative to head outdoors and soak up some of those vitamin-D enriched waves will provide you with added benefits.