Solar Eclipse Might Impact Mental Health


It’s being billed as a “once in a lifetime” event—and with good reason. The Aug. 21 total solar eclipse is rare in that it is only visible in the U.S. This hasn’t happened since the country was founded, USA Today says.

While many of the articles and reports on this phenomenon have focused on eye health—don’t look directly at the eclipse, for instance—its effect on mental health may be equally of interest.

First, understand that there is little research on how a solar eclipse might impact mental health. But there are some signs it might.

Animals show reactions to the eclipse, Mental Floss reports. Nocturnal animals may think night has fallen and begin their nightly routines. Bees studied in previous eclipses have shown increased activity levels, while hippos hide under water. So, is it so far-fetched to think that it might impact human animals, too?

One research project in 1981—published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry­—followed patients who were being treated for psychotic issues in an institutional setting. Of the patients studied, eight were being treated for schizophrenia and five for forms of manic-depressive disorder. All showed signs of a change in hormone levels during and immediately after the eclipse.

Those hormonal changes were “quite marked,” the researchers reported. The hormonal changes led to the behavioral changes that also were noted. Some of those studied showed more anxiety or restlessness during the eclipse and for several days afterward. Sleep disturbances, restlessness, anxiety and self- muttering were also observed in the days after the eclipse, but the intensity declined as time passed. By day six, behavior—and hormone levels—had returned to pre-eclipse standards.

It may not be just those with diagnosed mental health issues who are affected. According to the Mind Body Journal, prolactin—the same hormone that was tagged with affecting the patients in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry study—regulates metabolism, the immune system and the pancreas. It reports that prolactin levels that follow eclipses are similar to the peak that occurs during REM sleep.

Mind Body Journal also reports that changes in gravitational force and in the electromagnetic fields will occur during the eclipse, though there are few studies that show the impact of those changes on humans.

That said, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the sky (safely, of course) and one on any loved one who has mental health issues. And keep yourself in check, too. Obviously, if any of the symptoms become severe, call your medical professional.

The solar eclipse will last just a few minutes—and another won’t come around until 2024. Perhaps by then, the research will be more clear on the rare celestial phenomenon’s impact on our mental health.



Mental Floss
Mind Body Journal
Indian Journal of Psychiatry
Photo Credit: Phil Hart

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