If you’re feeling stressed or depressed, look up at the night sky. It could be relaxing and a relief from the pressures of daily life. The International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) is researching a connection between astronomy and mental health. 

We are creatures of nature, and turning our interests to nature takes our tired, overworked minds off the everyday strife and conflict that threaten our mental health. 

In a short article, “Intersection Between Astronomy and Mental Health,” in the August edition of Mental Health Matters magazine, Dominic Gregory Vertue, medical social worker at the OAD, said that there is growing evidence that an interest in astronomy can improve people’s mental health and well-being.

According to Vertue, some of the ways astronomy and mental health intersect:

  • The awe of nature as revealed by astronomy can absorb our interest.
  • Star gazing can focus and restore our mental energy.
  • Astronomy can become an activity shared with others and increase a sense of connectedness and belonging.
  • Learning about the night sky can expand our understanding and lead us to discover and explore.
  • Astronomy can provide opportunities to change perspective and reframe problems.

 

Vertue, along with OAD fellows Armine Patatanyan and Sandra Benitez, has been studying the the link between astronomy activities and a reduction in negative feelings in those with depression as they shift from focusing on their own feelings to a larger perspective.

 

The OAD’s Astronomy for Mental Health project is a collaboration among astronomers, psychologists, mental health professionals, social workers and other specialists to develop mental health guidelines to integrate astronomical activities for the mental health needs of vulnerable groups, such as refugees and displaced people, children, the elderly and care workers. So far, pilot activities have been conducted in Armenia, Spain, and South Africa.

For more information about the intriguing connection between mental health and observing the cosmos, go to mentalhealth@astro4dev.org

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