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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Lunar Effect?

Q. My 7-year-old son is bipolar and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He is being treated with medications that really seem to work well for him. But during the time of the full moon it's like he is a totally different child and sometimes is out of control.

Once the full moon has past (about three days after), he is back to being controlled. I was wondering if the full moon has any effects on moods? Is there any research about this phenomenon? Are children more prone to this effect?

A. The notion that the phases of the moon can influence behavior is certainly an ancient one, as reflected in the origins of the word, "lunacy" (luna=moon). On the whole, there is not much evidence to support his view. In one Australian study, the relationship between lunar cycles and violent or aggressive behavior was examined [Owen et al, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, August 1998]. No significant relationship was found between violence and any phase of the moon. Similarly, an English study [Wilkinson et al, International Journal of Social Psychiatry Spring 1997] found no correlation between phases of the moon and consultations for anxiety and depression in general medical practice.

On the other hand, one Russian study [Lucatelli and Pane, Biofizika Sept-Oct 1995] did find that in some cases of manic-depressive illness, "planetary locations in relation to the lunar month could be correlated with the susceptibility to bipolar manic-depressive syndrome." Of course, if this last finding is true, it raises the interesting question of WHY it is true--are people really affected by the moon, the stars, and the planets, or is it their BELIEF in such cosmic forces that makes them susceptible to them?

I remain a skeptic. I think it is much more likely that any variations in your son's mood are due to a combination of (1) his natural mood cycling rate, assuming he does have bipolar disorder; and (2) psychological or social stressors that simply happen to correlate with the full moon--in other words, coincidence.

My suggestion: try keeping a log of any events in your child's life that could be stressful--e.g., problems in school, stress at home, fights with friends, etc.--and seeing if you can find any relationship between these factors and his being out of control. (Also make sure you keep track of any lapses in his use of medication). Even better--if your son can also keep a sort of journal, you can then correlate your own observations with his, and see if you can make sense of the pattern you observe. And remember: the sun rises every morning when we get out of bed and stretch our arms--but that doesn't mean we make the sun rise by stretching!

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January 2004

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