Antarctica’s Winter Leader Sheds Light on Mental Health Struggles in Darkness
In the midst of complete darkness and -45C temperatures, Scott Base winter leader Greg Kukutai takes his laptop outside to work. While the dark days of New Zealand’s winters don’t compare to those in Antarctica, experts warn that this year’s seasonal slump could feel worse due to the lack of essential health benefits from the sun. With three years of pandemic-induced upheaval, a continuing cost of living crisis, and a country already struggling with mental health, Kiwis are at risk of a national downer.
The Effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Time and again, studies have shown that when light dies, sadness rises. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to changes in seasons, and it’s estimated to affect from about 1% to 10% of the global population, with women more commonly affected than men. Symptoms include fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.
Antarctica’s Winter Leader Shares His Experience
Scott Base engineer Steve “Sooty” Denby has spent four winters in complete darkness. A team of about 18 staff run the base during its six-month winter, and almost half have worked in the defense force. Denby admits to a creeping melancholy that can take hold once the sun goes, and he also experiences T3 syndrome, a condition found in polar explorers caused by a decrease in levels of the thyroid hormone. Its effects include forgetfulness, cognitive impairment, and mood disturbances.
Bringing the Sun to Us
For those who can’t afford to follow the sun, experts recommend bringing the sun to us. Dr. Alan Rosenthal and his lightbox are beaming in from Washington to help combat SAD. Mimicking outdoor light at about 10 times the intensity, the screens are one of the most popular and effective treatments for SAD, with sufferers typically using them for half an hour twice a day. Rosenthal encourages people to embrace whatever help they need, including medication.
New Technology to Mimic Daylight
New technology in the form of tunable LED lights will mimic daylight’s natural ebb and flow when the real thing is nowhere to be seen. When new buildings are shipped from New Zealand to Antarctica in 2027, the lights will help combat seasonal affective disorder and the effect on circadian rhythms.
While the dark days of winter can affect our physical and mental health, experts suggest bringing the sun to us through light therapy and other tactics. With new technology on the horizon, even those in Antarctica will soon have access to the benefits of sunlight.