Sunshine on my shoulders: Weather, pollution, and emotional distress

J Affect Disord. 2016 Nov 15;205:234-238. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.07.021. Epub 2016 Jul 16.


Background: Researchers have examined the relationship between mental health and weather/pollution with mixed results. The current study aimed to examine a range of weather and atmospheric phenomena and their association with time-bound mental health data.

Methods: Nineteen different weather/pollution variables were examined in connection with an archive of self-reported mental health data for university students participating in mental health treatment (n=16,452) using the Outcome Questionnaire 45.2 (OQ-45). Statistical approach involved randomly selecting 500 subjects from the sample 1000 different times and testing each variable of interest using mixed models analyses.

Results: Seasonal changes in sun time were found to best account for relationships between weather variables and variability in mental health distress. Increased mental health distress was found during periods of reduced sun time hours. A separate analysis examining subjects' endorsement of a suicidality item, though not statistically significant, demonstrated a similar pattern. Initial results showed a relationship between pollution and changes in mental health distress; however, this was mediated by sun time.

Limitations: This study examined a relatively homogenous, predominantly European American, and religious sample of college counseling clients from an area that is subject to inversions and is at a high altitude and a latitude where sun time vacillates significantly more than locations closer to the equator.

Conclusions: Seasonal increases in sun time were associated with decreased mental health distress. This suggests the need for institutions and public health entities to plan for intervention and prevention resources and strategies during periods of reduced sun time.

Keywords: Emotion; Mood; Pollution; Season; Weather.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seasons
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Sunlight*
  • Weather*
  • Young Adult