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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 02:19 GMT 03:19 UK
UK weather is good for you
A healthy British holiday
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By Georgina Kenyon

Fed up with cloudy skies and rainy days? Scientists have come up with evidence that the notorious British climate may not be such a bad thing after all.

Recent preliminary psychology studies have shown that some of the highest rates of depression in the Western world occur in hot, wealthy coastal cities such as the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia and in California in the US.

However, such studies seem to contradict the current medical understanding that the sun and light are beneficial for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), otherwise known as the winter blues.

According to Professor Bill Keatinge, physiologist, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, "While seasonal affective disorder is caused by winter darkness, in summer depression may be caused by heat, rather than the effects of light."

So too much sun and the heat it brings can be too much of a good thing.

Feeling tired

Lethargy from high temperatures and the monotony of constant heat throughout the year are thought to affect the body adversely.

Poor weather has its advantages
Artificial environments such as air conditioning in shopping malls and electric light can also disturb a person's natural rhythm and cause irritability and alienation.

Some health commentators also suggest that hot holiday resorts attract wealthy retired people who may be suffering from depression from other reasons apart from the climate, such as life experiences.

They probably also have more money to visit a psychiatrist and be treated than the rest of the population.

London psychiatrist Dr Trevor Turner, fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has written much on the topic of depression.

Changing seasons

He believes we adapt to seasonal change and that experiencing a low mood in winter may be important to enable a high mood in summer.

A monotonous hot climate could then be bad for you.

"The pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin which regulates sleep.

"This gland is poorly understood but is thought to be strongly linked to depression and mood," writes Dr Turner.

"Human beings should not be alienated from seasons of heat and cold for their well being.

"Our brains seem to need the rotational rhythm of the seasons for good health."

Dr Turner believes that perhaps SAD is over treated and that people should be more comfortable with not feeling happy all of the time.

Key chemical

Researchers at the Department of Biological Psychiatry at the Academic Hospital, Groningen in The Netherlands have shown that melatonin plays a major role in depression but how it directly interacts in the body is still being evaluated.

By the year 2020 depression will be the second greatest burden of ill health worldwide

World Health Organization
The researchers have shown that the effects of light therapy in mild to moderate depression associated with SAD are ambiguous.

They have found that light therapy at the beginning of the winter season can have positive effects on a person's mood in some cases and can sometimes prevent the progression of SAD.

However, the researchers conclude that light treatment does not seem to have any serious effect on non seasonal depression.

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists depression as a life threatening medical disorder, which effects 15% of the world's population.

WHO have released a report titled The Global Burden of Disease which cites depression as one of the most important disorders in both the developed and developing world and has called for individual governments to develop national action programmes.

Depression burden

A WHO spokesperson told BBC News Online: "The outlook for depression worldwide is very grim.

"By the year 2020 depression will be the second greatest burden of ill health worldwide, second only to ischaemic heart disease.

"Research has shown that there is a link between too much UV exposure and the suppression of the immune system.

"Suppression of the immune system can lead to infections and an overall lowering of a person's health. This in turn could lead to depression."

See also:

07 Feb 02 | Health
Sun's rays are good for the brain
30 Dec 01 | Health
Sad season of winter blues
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