A study of Swedish vacationing and antidepressant use seems to suggest a correlation between inclement weather and antidepressant use. Sweden, being very far north, has excessively dark winters, and consequently a government mandate summer holidays to compensate.
Hartig and colleagues suggest that being stuck indoors on vacation can limit mental recuperation. On the other hand, when able to roam outdoors, we can exert ourselves at a favourite sport or simply linger in the park. Psychologically, beautiful scenery can distract us from our troubles, help us forget our normal stressful environments and reconnect us to nature.
Well, who knows what’s really going on, but the Swedish researchers found a negative correlation between SSRI prescriptions filled with the temperature in Sweden for the month of July, going over several years. Given that more and more of people’s time is spent doing less and less outside (and more and more time is spent staring at a computer monitor, like you are right now) what does this trend bode for our mental health?
Here is the authors’ reasoning. In Sweden people take most of their holiday in July at the centre of the period stipulated by law (from 1 June to 31 August). A survey found it is over 90%. This means that during July they have the highest likelihood of being free to enjoy outdoor pursuits. On average, the rest of the year they will be working, so even if the weather is unseasonably warm in May, for example, they won’t be able to take advantage of it.
The reasoning goes, then, that if the weather is bad in July people are stuck indoors. This means they are unable to fully recuperate mentally before returning to work. Alternately, if the weather is good in July people are, on average, mentally rested and have less need for medication.
Remember that this explanation relies on averaging out many people’s behaviour across nine years. Obviously not everyone requires anti-depressants to get through a spell of bad weather. Similarly some people require them whatever the weather. But think about it in terms of the people who are slipping across the boundary of requiring/asking for medication. Then the authors’ explanation makes sense.
It’s a tenuous, nebulous, first-step-of-a-study, no doubt. Perhaps the disappointment of not going on your annual Swedish camping holiday is plunging people into the depths of despair. Perhaps a hundred other possible causes. And ‘outside’ is a rather nebulous term if there is one. Would the park count? What about the garden? I’m not picking apart the study – inquiring minds need to know.
Bu the fact of the matter is – we are slowly but surely creating a world where one never has to go outside; where going outside is becoming more and more of an inconvenience, more or a difficulty. Between all our electronic entertainment and connectivity, the constant extension of suburbia, the overpopulation and overcrowding, not to mention the ecological disaster we are as a species, how much longer will there be an outside, easily accessible? And for some many of us, such a thing is already a financial and geographical impossibility.
Eventually, we are all going to nothing more than little brains, sitting in jars in server rooms. How will we go outside then? If we are too spend all our time indoors (heaven forbid), but we all do already spend a lot of it – way more than we have evolved to – then perhaps we should figure out what that magical ‘outside’ has to offer us, so we can either preserve it, bottle it, or at the bare absolute miserable minimum, recreate it on your home pc.
PsyBlog | Psychology Blog: Happiness is Right Outside
The lead author of this paper, Terry Hartig, lives and works in Sweden, a country well known for its long, dark winters. As such, the Swedes know the importance of getting out in the sunshine, when it finally arrives. There is even a law requiring employers to provide four consecutive weeks of holiday in the summer. And it’s actually this law that is crucial to Hartig et al’s findings.