In the Light of Day

Springtime and youth mental health.

Posted Mar 18, 2020

Ambir Tolang/Unsplash
Source: Ambir Tolang/Unsplash

Last week’s annual shift to daylight savings time (DST) officially begins the inexorable march (no pun intended) to this week’s vernal equinox, the astronomical first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. That this is occurring earlier than it has in over a century is likely good news for those tired of winter, anxious from social (and emotional) distancing, and ready for something else (Boeckmann, 2020).

But the reality is the advent of blooming flowers and budding trees is not easy on everyone.

An article in The Atlantic, “The Reason Anxious People Often Have Allergies: There might be a hidden link between seasonal sniffles and mood disorders,” by Olga Khazan cites a study published in Pediatrics that states, “Allergic diseases in childhood have been associated with internalizing disorders, including anxiety and depression …” (Nanda et al, 2016). Khazan hypothesizes, “If further research bolsters this relationship between allergies and mental health, it could provide a fascinating glimpse into how our bodies might influence our minds, and possibly vice versa” (Khazan, 2019).

Another report on semi-annual clock changing concludes, “In the days that follow the twice-yearly ‘springing forward’ or ‘falling back’ of our clocks, you can count on lively coffee-break complaints about body clock confusion, taping the wrong show, or missed appointments” (Collingwood, 2019).

More serious detriments include a link to car crashes. According to a study published in Current Biology, “Spring DST transition acutely increases fatal traffic accident risk by 6% in the US” (Fritz et al, 2020).

But let’s get back to mental health.

Research reported by the American Psychological Association states, “We identified four distinct types among 497 adolescents and replicated these types among their mothers. The types were labeled Summer Lovers (better mood with warmer and sunnier weather), Unaffected (weak associations between weather and mood), Summer Haters (worse mood with warmer and sunnier weather), and Rain Haters (particularly bad mood on rainy days)” (Klimstra et al, 2011).

And suicide rates are higher in the light of spring — in fact, the highest in April, June, and July — not in the darkness of winter, as many assume (Shapiro, 2019).

Interesting.

But despite the etiology of mental health conditions, there seems little doubt that, especially when it comes to youth, we are facing an existential crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Health reveals the following (NAMI, 2019).

  • One in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.

Add to that the most recent statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics (Curtin and Heron, 2019).

  • Between 2007 and 2017, the suicide rate of 10-to 24-year-olds increased by 56 percent. 
  • During the same period, the rate of death by suicide among 10- to 14-year-olds nearly tripled.

Exacerbating the problem is a significant shortage of youth mental health professionals, as recently reported by USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism (Mink, 2019).

A tragic case in point appeared in a March 5, 2020, story by CBS12 News in West Palm Beach, Florida. It discussed the death by train of Deerfield High School (FL) football standout — and Georgia Tech recruit — Bryce Gowdy, 17, last December:

Bryce Gowdy has now been gone for over two months, but his mother remembers his struggle like it was yesterday.

“I felt like he was going through a lot of stress, through the recruitment process, through graduating early from school, also family issues. With him going through all those different things, I felt it was important for him to have someone to talk to,” Shibbon Winelle said.

She says her 17-year-old son was dealing with dark thoughts and emotional burden in the weeks before he passed.

Knowing this, Winelle brought Gowdy to the Henderson Behavioral Health Clinic in Broward County, but staff said they couldn't help him.

“We walked into Henderson together to see if there was someone we could speak to, but we couldn’t talk to anyone that day,” she said. “They just had us put our name on the sign-in sheet and then they said they would have someone call to do intake.”

By the time the staff at Henderson called, Winelle says they were far too late; Gowdy had already been dead for over a month (Nahl, 2020).

No doubt, Bryce’s case is emblematic of overwhelmed mental health systems nationwide, including on college campuses.

The question remains: What can be done? Here, we point to the work of three influential organizations (among many more) addressing these problems.

The Jason Foundation

  • Is dedicated to the prevention of the “Silent Epidemic” of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs that equip young people, educators/youth workers, and parents with the tools and resources to help identify and assist at-risk youth.
  • Wants to establish a Triangle of Prevention by providing students, parents, and teachers the tools and resources to help identify and help at-risk youth, with a curriculum unit for students and seminars for teachers and parents. 

The Jed Foundation

  • Helps schools evaluate and strengthen their mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention programs and systems to safeguard individual and community health.
  • Develops expert resources and creates powerful partnerships to ensure more teens and young adults get access to the resources and support they need to navigate life’s challenges.
  • Educates and equips students, families, and communities to know when and how to support others who are in distress or struggling with a mental health issue.

Total Brain

  • Will help address a lack of adequate screenings and the shortage of youth counseling professionals by deploying its proven-effective mental health and wellness platform to help monitor and support the mental health, and underlying brain capacities, of young people.
  • Contributes aggregate data insights, real-time referrals and the generation of public awareness and action through social and traditional media channels.

Just as important, each is committed to improving the mental health of adolescents, pointing to the light of the day, come rain or shine.

References

Boeckmann, C. (2020). Celebrate an early vernal equinox and the start of spring! The Old Farmer’s Almanac. March 4, 2020. https://www.almanac.com/content/first-day-spring-vernal-equinox# (12 Mar. 2020).

Center for Collegiate Mental Health. (2018). 2017 Annual Report (Publication No. STA 18-166). January 2018. https://ccmh.psu.edu/files/2018/02/2017_CCMH_Report-1r4m88x.pdf (12 Mar. 2020).

Collingwood, J. (2019). Daylight savings time and its impact on mental health. Psych Central. May 15, 2019. https://psychcentral.com/lib/daylight-savings-time-and-mental-health/ (12 Mar. 2020).

Curtin, S. and M. Heron. (2019). Death rates due to suicide and homicide among persons aged 10-24: United States, 2000-2017. NCHS Data Brief. No. 352. October 2019. National Center for Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db352-h.pdf (12 Mar. 2019).

Fritz, J., VoPham, T., Wright Jr., K. and C. Vetter. (2020). A chronobiological evaluation of the acute effects of daylight saving time on traffic accident risk. Current Biology. January 30, 2020. https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)31678-1 (12 Mar. 2020).

JED. (2020). What we do. https://www.jedfoundation.org/what-we-do/ (12 Mar. 2020).

JFI. (2020). About us. The Jason Foundation, Inc. https://jasonfoundation.com/about-us/ (12 Mar. 2020).

Khazan, O. (2019). The reason anxious people often have allergies. The Atlantic. July 10, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/07/allergies-anxiety/593572/ (12 Mar. 2020).

Klimstra, T. A., Frijns, T., Keijsers, L., Denissen, J. J., Raaijmakers, Q. A., van Aken, M. A., Koot, H. M., van Lier, P. A., and W.H. Meeus. (2011). Come rain or come shine: individual differences in how weather affects mood. Emotion. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21842988/ (12 Mar. 2020).

Knopf, T. (2018). Increasing demand for mental health services on college campuses. North Carolina Health News. August 28, 2018. https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2018/08/28/increasing-demand-for-mental-health-services-on-college-campuses/ (12 Mar. 2020).

Mink, C. (2019). There’s a huge shortage of mental health providers for kids who need help. Center for Health Journalism. May 6, 2019. USCAnnenberg. https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2019/04/22/there-s-huge-shortage-mental-health-providers-kids-who-need-help (12 Mar. 2020).

Nahl, L. (2020). Weeks before suicide, mother tried to get her son help at mental health clinic. CBS12 News. March 5, 2020. https://cbs12.com/news/local/weeks-before-suicide-mother-tried-to-get-her-son-help-at-mental-health-clinic (12 Mar. 2020).

NAMI. (2019). Mental health by the numbers. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers (12 Mar. 2020).

Nanda, M. K., LeMasters, G. K., Levin, L., Rothenberg, M. E., Assa’ad, A. H., Newman, N., Bernstein, D., Khurana-Hershey, G., Lockey, J. E., & Ryan, P. H. (2016). Allergic diseases and internalizing behaviors in early childhood. Pediatrics, 137(1). https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/137/1/e20151922 (12 Mar. 2020).

Shapiro, M. (2019). Suicide rates spike in spring, not winter. Dome. May/June 2019. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/articles/suicide-rates-spike-in-spring-not-winter (12 Mar. 2020).

Total Brain. (2019). The Total Brain platform. https://www.totalbrain.com/ (12 Mar. 2020).