Does the weather affect our moods

Wednesday 01st Aug 2012 by Jessica Wevill

Image; Christoph Michels

British summer. We spend the whole year waiting for it and then complain about the lack of sunshine when it does arrive, and this year is certainly no exception to the annual pattern. So far there have been good odds on the fact that if you glance out of the window you'll be met with the dreary sight of an overcast sky and more often than not, a steady drizzle of rain. Does this miserable weather have an impact on our moods and give us the right to complain?

SAD, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a mood disorder that causes people of sound mental health during the rest of the year to experience symptoms like depression, decreased energy and activity, and social withdrawal during the winter months. Commonly referred to as the 'winter blues', statistically women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men are. Thought to be caused by lack of sunlight exposure as the length of the days shorten as winter approaches, studies show that one of the most effective forms of treatment for SAD is light therapy. This involves exposure to daylight in specific quantities for a particular amount of time normally given out by a light box, which makes up for lost sunlight exposure during the winter months. By doing this, the body's internal clock is reset, thus helping to solve fatigue problems and therefore allowing a person to have more energy during the day.

Although it is commonly known that SAD is directly related to the change in seasons and shortened daylight hours, there is now evidence that shows that SAD increases with increase in Northern latitudes. This validates the theory that links the number of sunlight hours that a person is exposed to with SAD. Studies done in the USA have backed this theory up with the evidence that at 43° northern latitude in New Hampshire, 20.7% of people suffer from various types of SAD whereas at 27° northern latitude in Florida, only 4% of people suffer from SAD. So people living closer to the equator who are exposed to more sunlight hours suffer less from this common link between weather patterns and mood.

Despite SAD being most commonly linked to winter, can we not argue that this summer we are having currently is only a small improvement on the winter we've just had? According to the Met Office (1971-2000 averages), England experiences an average of 179.4 hours of sunlight in June. However, this year's records show that we've experienced only 125.9 hours of sunlight in June. This is only 65% of the 1981 to 2010 average. To put it simply, this is the dullest June since 1985.