Monday, March 5, 2012
Going loony: the moon & mental illness
I frequently visit the forums at SANE UK and today there was a post about the moon. The original post was just a comment on how the moon looked but it wasn't long before the relationship between the moon & mental illness popped up. So the question is, does the moon have any effect on those with a mental illness?
The simple answer is no, there is no relationship at all. Hundreds of studies over the years have come up with absolutely no evidence that changes in moon phases has any effect on mental illness or any number of other issues like violence & the behavior of dogs.
Despite this, a study by the University of New Orleans has shown that up to 81% of mental health professionals believe there is a relationship between the moon & human behavior. Why, in the 21st century, would someone with years of training still accept a fallacy like this to be true?
It probably has something to do with cultural conditioning. For thousands of years our ancestors worshiped and/or feared the moon. The moon was a god in a lot of societies for thousands of years. References to the effect of the moon on people has been found in ancient Babylonian & Assyrian writings. This type of cultural conditioning is hard to shake off, even in our modern world.
As late as the 19th century lawyers in England would use "not guilty by reason of full moon' as a defense for the mentally ill, or 'lunatics'. The very term lunatic derives from the Latin 'luna' which means moon. Even today, everyone one from police to politicians will blame increases in crime & trouble on the lunar cycle. But years of studies have shown there is nothing to indicate ANY relationship. The belief of the moon affecting human behavior seems to be so deeply ingrained into society, it will probably take another thousand years to stamp out the idea.
While study shows no correlation between the moon & mental illness, perhaps personal belief plays a part. If you truly believe the moon does something then you will look for things that bear this line of thought out. But usually a study of periods outside these times will show these things also happen, you just notice it more because you're expecting to see it when there's a full moon.
Additionally, if you have a core belief that something will happen, you will do things, probably subconsciously, to bring the event about. If you think you're going to do something or feel differently because a full moon is coming, you probably will. But that's because of your own beliefs, not the moon.
Now, having said that, we need to look at the other side of things, in this case, sunshine. It wasn't that long ago that no-one would believe the sun & seasons could affect human behavior. But now we have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where the amount of sunshine each day has an effect on depression - you feel worse during winter months when the days are shorter & better during summer. If the sun can have an effect why not the moon?
Personally, I don't believe the lunar cycle truly has an effect on human behavior. But with the growing awareness of SAD, I wouldn't be surprised to find that sometime in the future someone does find there is something in the moon phases affecting people. We'll just have to wait and see.
Until then, I'll just stick to being loony everyday, rather than saving it for special occasions. :)