Don’t be a Lunatic! Understanding the moon and mental health; The Lunar Effect

The moon and mental health

If you tell people that you think the moon and mental health have a relationship they immediately assume you are a crazy conspiracy theorist.  However, the moon does have  an impact on our mental health, maybe slightly, but an impact none the less. This phenomenon is often referred to as the Lunar Effect.

As many counselors, psychologists, or even medical doctors or EMTs if they think that the moon has an impact on human beings and behavior many will reluctantly say, “If it doesn’t, it sure appears as if it does.” While I can’t speak for ALL people in these fields, I have spoken with many professionals from multiple fields (Licensed Professional Counselors, EMTs, Medical Doctors, Nurses, and people in non-medical fields) and there seems to be a some observed correlation with the moon and human behavior. This can be the problem with correlation, it does not always mean causation. In other words, just because their might be a correlation between abnormal behaviors and the moon cycles does not mean that the moon is causing this behavior.

The moon and mental health
A hypothetical make up a person’s mental health make up

Think of mental health being like a pie chart, it is made up multiple factors, like DNA, environment, exercise, diet, relationships, and more making up the chart, each with a slice. All the pieces will be a different size. For all people the size of each piece will vary drastically. Some people’s will have things like religion, trauma, and other factors that might not be one someone else’s chart at all. On the left is a hypothetical make up for a fictions person’s overall mental health.

As you can see, moon phases would be a very small part of this puzzle. Such an impact that not all people would necessarily think about it or even notice, but enough so that it may have an impact on some.

A Therapists view on the moon and mental health

In the last three days in our small county we had two major tragedies, a peculiar fatality car accident, and a person was found dead in a parking lot. Horrific, saddening, and tragic. I texted my friend and fellow Licensed Professional Counselor, Stacy Smith, about the two incidents. Her response was simple, “Freekin full moon.” While neither of us would ever say that the moon caused these deaths, however the the trend of tragedies and the full moon is absolutely present.

Stacy and I have worked together for nearly a decade and this is not the first time we have had a discussion about the Lunar Effect. We have even made jokes when the moon appears to be enormous and full, “Uh-Oh Stac, you see that moon tonight? Shit is about to hit the fan!” Inevitably clients will begin to melt down and that is never a good thing in the mental health world.

When asked to summarize her views, and two decades of clinical mental health counseling experience Stacy said,

“After working for many years in many different arenas of mental health I would say it is negligent to ignore how the moon cycles affect our behavior. It is not abnormal for behaviors to become more erratic during a full moon cycle. As this cycle effects the tides and gravitational pulls. We as animals respond to the change in environment. We should always be kind to one another and aware of each other but particularly during full moon.”

This is absolutely true. In the mental health world, I am less concerned about understanding why a trend exists as I am knowing that it exists. What I mean is, I may not be able to explain exactly why the moon causes abnormal behavior, but I know that a trend of abnormal behavior does exist with the full moon.

Why would the moon have an impact on mental health?

Well, this is where it gets a little tricky, and remembering that identifying a cause based off a correlation, can be difficult. However, there are some theories of why the Lunar Effect exists.

  • Gravitational Pull: The moon’s pull is so strong that it is the reason that we have tides. Knowing that our body is made up largely of water, “The human body is more than 60 percent water. Blood is 92 percent water, the brain and muscles are 75 percent water, and bones are about 22 percent water.” (Water Info), This pulling of water could potentially be a reason for the possible impact the moon may have on our moods.
  • History and the Future: It has been said that the term lunatic, a slang term for a crazy person, comes from the word lunar. For many people, some many years ago, some present to this day there was a belief that the moon was the biggest impact on mental health. Just because people something doesn’t mean it’s true, but many long standing beliefs do often show some scientific credibility in the future. Scientists may find a causal explanation in 100 years, we will all be laughing.
  • The Placebo EffectThe placebo effect in this case basically is that if people believe something will have an effect, it will have an effect. For example, if you are taking a pill and you think it will relieve your cold, there is a good chance you will see a reduction in symptoms just because you believe it will work. If people think there is a correlation, and clearly, some people do, it can impact behavior.
  • Harder to Sleep: Personally, I do not sleep very well during the full moon. In the mountains, where I live, the moon appears to be giant some times (as it does it everywhere), but with no light pollution it seems massive. I also like to tease people and say, “Yep, we are at 10,000 feet above sea level, pretty much half way to the moon!” The looks are priceless. But last night as I lay awake pondering, my room was bright, like i could have read a book there was so much light in my bedroom. I wondered, maybe the brightness of this room is the reason I don’t sleep well during full moons? This could be causing a disruption in my sleep, thus throwing my mental health off? Possibly, I know that sleep is a huge part of how I feel mentally, even the slightest disruption in my sleep needs can be monumental.
  • Social Stigma: We have all seen some sort of ware wolf, vampire, horror movies where on the full moon, everyone goes crazy! It does make for great Hollywood. This also plants a seed in our sub-conscious that the full moon is different, and in some way has an impact. Even if fictional, it can also lead to the placebo effect.
  • Animal Behavior: Animals do act differently during a full moon. Up here in the high country the coyotes hunt more, and we can hear it. The last three nights corresponding with the full moon I have been awakened by the coyotes hunting. There is more light so it is easier for them to see. Waking up to howling coyotes is always eerie, waking up to the sound them making a kill is even worse.


Truth being told, as it always should be, there is a lot of research, far more scientific than this article, that claims the moon has no impact on the human mind. With claims that the earth’s pull is not strong enough to impact human beings, and there is little if any hard scientific evidence, and little correlation between the moon and mental health behaviors (Scientific America). And honestly, probably from a purely scientific standpoint, they might be right.

A lame attempt at a photo of the 2015 Blood Moon, Breckenridge, CO.
A lame attempt at a photo of the 2015 Blood Moon, Breckenridge, CO.

However, ask many professionals in the health and mental health fields if it appears there is a correlation and you would be astonished at how many people would find that question ludicrous. Not because they back the scientific studies may not back it. But because to them it is so apparent the studies are irrelevant. We want to serve the people around as best as we can, that means looking for possible trends, no matter what research might say. Even the best scientists admit just because we don’t exactly what causes an effect today, doesn’t mean that we won’t someday figure out the cause.

It is funny how many people in the mental health and medical field are reluctant to talk about the impact the moon may have on people. It may fear of ridicule because of the lack of scientific proof, stigma, or something else. Yet, once I express my beliefs in a possible impact many people seem to open and share their experiences and observations about a possible correlation. Is the moon THE cause of mental illness, no. Is it possibly A factor for some people. Absolutely