Photo courtesy of Hispanicize

Summer is approaching, and we are all getting ready to enjoy the sun. However, besides knowing that the sun gives you a great tan, do you know about its connection to mental health and how it is affected without it?

Sunlight is vital for human beings. It is one of the main factors in the production of vitamin D. This substance fulfills essential functions in our body, such as helping with the absorption of calcium and phosphate and allowing optimal functioning of our bones, muscles, and teeth.

But beyond the positive effects, the sun has on our physical well-being, there is also a significant impact on our mental health.

Serotonin and the sun

Both sunshine and lack of sunlight can increase or decrease the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that is directly associated with mood swings. If serotonin levels are high, it can help a person feel calmer and even help improve sleep; if the opposite is the case and serotonin levels decline, the person may be at a higher risk for mental illness.

Low serotonin levels when there is little sun exposure are associated with seasonal patterned depression (also known as a seasonal affective disorder or SAD), a type of depression that manifests with the change of seasons. 

It is more common to get these depressions during the winter when the days are shorter due to the lower amount of light. Other types of mental disorders and illnesses include anxiety and panic attacks, whose improvements are associated with sun exposure.

Benefits and risks of the sun

Sunlight has many benefits, such as the production of vitamin D mentioned above, but there are many more things that the sun can help you with, and among them are the benefits for the skin.

According to studies conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), skin conditions can improve with adequate sun exposure. Psoriasis, acne, eczema, and jaundice are some of these conditions that can be alleviated with certain light treatments recommended by dermatologists.

Cancer prevention may also be associated with sunlight exposure. Some studies show that those who are less exposed to the sun or live in places where the hours of light are less may be more likely to suffer from some type of cancer than those in areas with more hours of sunlight. 

And just as there are multiple benefits, there are also risks when prolonged exposure to the sun. One of the most significant risks is skin cancer.

The ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun can damage DNA cells causing skin cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if exposure to the sun will last more than 15 minutes, it is advisable to take precautions such as sunscreen, and wear a hat and t-shirt.