Extra hour of sunlight positively affects mental health

With the lack of vitamin D community members face seasonal mental health issues


©2019 Kailin Schumacher

Eau Claire set their clocks forward an hour on Sunday due to Daylight Saving time.

Daylight saving time was on Sunday, taking away an hour but bringing back more sunlight, and increasing mental health all around. With the recent loss of sunlight, people around the world can lack vitamin D, leading to mental health issues according to Mental Health America

The tradition was popularized by Germany in 1916 to aid the country during World War I, according to Time and Date History. The time change was used so it would stay light longer, leading people to use less fuel for artificial light during the war. Over the last hundred years, energy conservation has become so advanced that now the practice doesn’t necessarily help with saving energy.

For many today, the added sunlight is not only a sign of spring but a sign of normalcy. According to Mental Health America, every year about five percent of Americans are affected by seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as seasonal depression because of the lack of sunlight seen in the winter. Now, the extra sunlight is welcomed back as it produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is known to affect mood and has been linked to depression. Mental Health America also reports that during shorter, darker days the sleep-related hormone melatonin increases, affecting individuals sleep patterns, mood and circadian rhythm, throwing off their “biological clock.”

Riley McGrath, a licensed psychologist and director of Counseling Services at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said that during the winter months many students face seasonal depression without even realizing it.

“January and February are the top times for seasonal depression and is when we treat a lot of students, but probably not as many as we should,” McGrath said. “Not everyone comes in because of winter break and because they just think that their lack of motivation, sleepiness, loss of hunger and overall mood change is just because they dislike winter, but they don’t realize that it’s something more.”

Around the world SAD is becoming more common and recognized. One Canadian non-profit, 8 80 Cities group, is taking it upon itself to make a difference in three communities, one being Eau Claire. Through their two-year Wintermission Program they are looking to combat social isolation and improving public life in winter for all residents.

Through the program, 8 80 Cities will work with Eau Claire to create outdoor activities and an overall winter friendly city for everyone to enjoy. In November, 62 cities from all over submitted applications for the program but only three were chosen.

“We are ecstatic to be working with such fantastic teams in Buffalo, Eau Claire, and Leadville,” Amanda O’Rourke, Executive Director of 8 80 Cities said in her press release. “The impressive project teams these cities assembled demonstrate their passion and commitment to being national leaders in combating social isolation and improving public health through strategic investments in winter friendly public spaces.”

The Eau Claire committee has been holding meetings around town to come up with ideas for Wintermission that will kick off in the winter of 2019-20.

Greta Leicht, a first-year student at UW-Eau Claire has been dealing with seasonal depression since middle school. To take control of her mental health and create artificial sunlight, Leicht uses a brightening alarm clock that acts as sunlight when she wakes up every morning.

“It really helps,” Leicht said. “It took me a little time to believe that seasonal depression was real. I would tell myself, ‘No, you’re just sleepy you’re fine.’ And then I would feel really bad all the time. But now that I pay attention to it and take care of it, I feel a lot better.”

McGrath mentioned there are many treatments for SAD that are easily accessible, such as counseling, exercise, a new diet and low-dose antidepressants if needed. He also referenced a lamp called the Happy Lamp that emits vitamin D.

“It’s easy and makes a big difference,” McGrath said. “You just look at the lamp for 20 minutes every day, maybe while you’re eating your breakfast, and just soak it in. They are pretty cheap online, otherwise we have some here on campus that anyone is welcome to use.”

The loss of an hour Sunday made a big difference for many.“I could feel it,” Leicht said. “I knew even before we lost that hour of sleep on Sunday that things were looking up. When I realized it was going to be brighter outside, I could just feel my energy and happiness flooding back. That Sunday I just felt like myself again.”