With 1 in 10 men in the UK having to be treated for depression during their lifetime (RAMH, 2018) the issue couldn’t be more relevant, but what are the causes of depression and can it be stopped?
Words by NADA COLES
Our addiction to electronics and fear of the outdoors could be the cause. Since the computer revolution, we now spend an average of 93% of our time inside (Klepeis Neil, 2018) and 9.5 hours a day looking at a screen (eMarketer, 2016). This begs the question, are we getting the correct amount of natural sunlight our bodies need to function? Artificial light averages at 100-200 lux, whereas outdoors averages at 100,000 lux (Mercola, 2015) suggesting we our falling short of our required natural light intake.
It is a commonly held and researched view that the change in seasons could be having a detrimental effect on our mental health, with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) an illness that is recorded to impact 1 in 3 people in the UK (Molloy Antonia, 2014). It is triggered by a lack of natural sunlight and symptoms can include; tiredness, weight gain, and depression. It has been suggested, that we are in fact experiencing the effects of our past, as homo-sapiens only voyaged to the Northern hemisphere 50,000 years ago. Therefore, our bodies even now may not have adapted to deal with changing seasons. In addition, whilst in the winter months our bodies originally began to slow down our metabolism to conserve energy to deal with the cold as a form of hibernation (Mercola, 2017). This now conflicts with our current 24-hour society, where we are expected to be constantly active, causing an impact on our bodies.
“There’s usually a day in September when I just feel something in the air shift and I know the season has changed”
David Moonwood, 45, is an 8-year sufferer of SAD. “There’s usually a day in September when I just feel something in the air shift and I know the season has changed”. David goes on to explain that, from that moment on it becomes hard to function in the same way, struggling with alertness and insomnia, as well as depressive tendencies. However, exposing yourself to bright light early on in the day can help relieve the symptoms. “It’s all about having a bright light environment far as I can tell”.
People often consider that time is just a construct of the imagination, but recent research shows that every organ has it own 24-hour clock based on the rising and setting of the sun. “Our bodies are programmed to perform scheduled tasks at specific times during the 24-hour wake-sleep cycle when you consistently act against these clocks, our internal systems start to malfunction”. (Mercola, 2015) Sufferers of SAD may overproduce melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland located just behind the eye. Melatonin signals to our bodies that it can slow our systems down and carry out the necessary tasks whilst our mind rests. However, an excess amount of melatonin can cause depressive symptoms (Bauner A. Brent, 2017).
Alarmingly, our modern day habits are harming our body clocks further. With 20.6 million people aged 6 – 64 playing video games in the UK (Ukie, 2018) and 81% of people aged 18 – 22 admitting to playing between the hours of 2 am-6 am at least once a week (Lamola Sakari, 2011), society are damaging their natural melatonin levels. Game enthusiast Chris Edwards, 22, spoke about his preference to game at night saying, “It makes you feel more immersed in the game”. However, research indicates that staying active during the night can be disastrous for your mental health. The blue light emitted from people’s screens is causing the brain to work while it should be resting. In a study carried out by The University of Basel, Switzerland, they found that playing video games between the hours of 10 pm – 6 am increased the risk of depression by up to 44% (Lamola Sakari, 2011).
Light therapy has been tested as an effective way of dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, with products such as, the Phillips GoLite Blu and Lumie’s Dawn simulator having had a huge impact on SAD suffers. Coelux has been developing a revolutionary way to look at artificial light. A skylight that perfectly mimics the effect of a bright summers day. The light incorporates nanoparticles that mimic the size of the particles in the atmosphere, and a sophisticated set of optics give the illusion that the projector is an infinite distance away, with the end result being breathtakingly realistic. Selina Fowler, UK representative for Coelux, has found a lot of success in hospitals, specifically MRI rooms. “These rooms tend to be dark with no natural sunlight, the Coelux Skylight is helping to give the patients a better experience”. It doesn’t have to stop at light therapy; blue light-cancelling glasses can help regulate melatonin release to keep your bodies’ body-clock rhythm running efficiently. These products have a high success rate compared to others that help aid depression, due to a certain subtlety to them; we as a nation are self-conscious to openly admit the state of our mental health and these products focus on the everyday use for the everyday user.
The sudden use of electronics has forced our bodies to adjust to our fast-paced lifestyle, which can be at odds to what our natural chemistry is telling us. We need not be resigned to these problems however. In first recognising the problem, solutions such as those mentioned above, in conjunction with continued research can hopefully alleviate the pain and suffering presently experienced.
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