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Let the sunshine in, Belgium clamours after record dark spell

December 2017 was Belgium's second-darkest month since 1887
AFP

Brussels (AFP) – Wind, clouds, rain, and no sun: Belgium has suffered an early winter with one of the worst deficits of sunshine in its history, a surprising and depressing turn even for a country used to bad weather.

With 10 hours and 31 minutes of sunshine recorded at the Uccle weather station in Brussels, the month of December 2017 was “the second darkest month since 1887”, when the surveys began, according to the Royal Institute Meteorological Survey (MRI) of Belgium. 

Only the month of December 1934 was darker, with 9:31 hours of sunshine, according to David Dehenauw, chief forecaster at the institute and a well-known TV weatherman.

December is the month of the winter solstice and “with very short days, it was much more likely to have a very dark month,” said Dehenauw. 

By comparison, the least sunny November had 21 hours of sunshine in 1922, while the worst January saw 26 hours in 1902, according to the institute. 

January 2018 will inevitably be sunnier than December 2017. Not only are the days longer, but a welcome clear day on Sunday brought the capital eight whole hours of sunshine.

According to health experts, the shortage of sunshine can lead to “seasonal depression”, whose symptoms include major fatigue. 

“When we expose ourselves to the light in the morning, it inhibits the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep and it favours the production of hormones that will stimulate the body,” said Matthieu Hein, psychiatrist at Erasmus Hospital in Brussels. 

However in the absence of light, we are “rather slow, tired, which is characteristic of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons.

Treatment for SAD can include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy, according to the website of the US-based Mayo clinic.

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