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  • Writer's pictureCathy Wyse

Capturing the Solstice: Shining Light on Mental Health

Updated: Jun 27

To highlight the importance of light and seasonal changes to mental health, we asked members of the AMBIENT-BD and HELIOS-BD research teams, and our Lived Experience Advisory Panels (LEAP) to share their experience of the Summer Solstice. They were kind enough to share their sunrises and sunsets from across the world (while being careful not to disrupt their own circadian rhythms).

Circadian rhythms are daily cycles that regulate the timing of sleep and most other physiological processes. Every part of the human body has some kind of circadian rhythm or body clock and these timing systems are really sensitive to our daily exposure to light. This includes exposure to sunlight, to artificial light during the night, as well as to the lack of daily light exposure caused by indoor activities.

Sunrise at 5.15am (GMT+1): Creadan Head, County Waterford,Ireland

The body clock and circadian rhythms of people living with mental health disorders are often irregular and this causes symptoms such as disrupted sleep and mood, and changes in energy levels. Erratic exposure to light at different times of the day, such as during shift work or light at night affects the timing of the body clock and the mental and physical processes that it controls.

Sunrise at 5.20am (GMT+1): BallyadamsCastle, County Laois, Ireland

Changes in light exposure over the year are also important, and we now know that many aspects of human physiology change with the seasons including the immune system, the function of neurons in the brain and the production of some hormones. Seasonal changes in light exposure can affect mood and behaviour, especially in people living with mental health disorders such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Depressive episodes are more common in the darker months when daylength is shorter, while manic symptoms are more common during the spring and summer when daylength is longer.

Sunrise at 6am (GMT-4): Wilmington, North Carolina, USA

Seasonal patterns in mental health have been recognised for centuries, and are seen in many different disorders, but it is not yet known if they are a response to change in light or temperature, or other things that change over the year. Animals that live at Northern latitudes are programmed to change their behaviour, sleep and body weight across the seasons, and it is possible that the seasonal changes we see in humans are driven by similar “hard-wired” mechanisms.

Sunrise at 5.30am (GMT+1): Dunmore East, Waterford, Ireland

The summer solstice marks the point of maximum day length of the year, when some parts of Scotland will see 18 hours of daylight compared to about 6 hours at the winter solstice. The body clock needs to adapt to these changes in daylight at Northern latitudes and interestingly, seasonal patterns in the symptoms of mental health disorders are more common in people that live at Northern latitudes, where changes in daylength over the year are more extreme.

Sunset at 10.05pm (BST): Calder Mill Waterfall, Lochwinnoch, Scotland, UK

We know that exposure to artificial light can disrupt circadian rhythms and affect sleep and mood, and the same might be true for seasonal rhythms. It is possible that exposure to artificial light during winter, and especially lack of sunlight exposure in summer might suppress seasonal rhythms in humans and this is a new area of research for scientists that work on body clocks.

Sunset at
9.50pm (CEST): Les Landes, France

Many people living with mental health disorders report that their symptoms vary with the seasons, but the underlying causes of these patterns remain largely unknown. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Maynooth University are focusing on the seasonality of neuropsychiatric disorders to uncover these causes.

Sunset at 9.50pm (GMT+1): Lawlors Strand, Waterford, Ireland

The extreme day length on the summer solstice today serves as a powerful reminder of the changes in photoperiod at Northern latitudes that might contribute to some of the symptoms of mental health disorders.

Sunset at 9.20pm (GMT+1): Big Ben, London, England, UK

We hope this blog has provided a better understanding of the important role light, and changes in season, can play in both our physical and mental health.

Thank you so much to our wonderful LEAP members and researchers for capturing their Solstice from around the world, and sharing them with us.

Sunset at 10.10pm (BST): Peterhead, Scotland, UK

Sunset at 10pm (GMT+1): The Rock of Dunamase,County Laois, Ireland

Sunset at 9.25pm (BST): Jurassic Coast, Devon, UK

Sunset at 8.25pm (GMT-4): Wilmington,North Carolina, USA

Sunset 9.50pm (GMT+1): Strawberry Moon, Waterford, Ireland

Sunset at 10.05pm (BST): Burntisland, Scotland, UK
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