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Sunny Days Are Good for Icelanders' Mental Health

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Sunny Days Are Good for Icelanders' Mental Health

reading book cat sun

Photo: Golli.

Besides marking a welcome change to all the rain of late, this week’s sunny weather may indeed have a measurably positive impact on the mental health residents of the capital area, RÚV reports. In fact, according to psychiatrist Þórgunnur Ársælsdóttir, Icelanders’ mental wellbeing is very much tied up in these doses of good, sunny summer weather.

Þórgunnur says that seasonal changes in weather and light have been shown to have an effect on some mental illnesses. Mania, for example, is more common in many places in the spring or early summer. “And it’s also widely known," she continued, "that there's a higher rate of suicide in the spring.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often thought of as being a winter phenomenon, but in some places, it's actually more common in the summer. (This is then sometimes known as Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, or 'summer SAD'). Both forms of SAD are, however, less common in Iceland than might be expected, given the country’s latitude. Þórgunnur attributes this to environmental influences and acclimation over time. “It’s natural that when we live in northern regions, we become happy when the weather’s good, when it’s warm and the sun’s shining. Because, of course, in the past, people needed good weather to get by...”

Icelanders may experience a much great difference between the summer and winter than people do in other countries. A few years ago, a study was conducted which measured the frequency of winter SAD in different places, including Iceland. This study showed that winter-related SAD decreased in inverse proportion to how far north a person lived.

“In Iceland, there was a lower frequency than expected in relation to [the country’s] latitude,” Þórgunnur explained. “And this was compared to people in Canada. Winter SAD among the descendants of Icelanders there was lower, such that the theory was that we have adapted to it better. But this hasn’t been investigated further.”

Because sunny days are more a pleasant exception than the rule in Iceland, Þórgunnur says that the effects of good weather and sunshine are more noticeable. “If it were always sunny, then we wouldn’t notice that things were especially better when there was sun.”

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