are happening more frequently in major cities around the United States, and some parts of Europe, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On average, six heat waves per year occurred during the 2010s and 2020s, compared to an average of six per year previously (
As heat wave episodes are becoming more frequent and long-lasting, it is important to understand how extreme heat has an impact on mental well-being and functioning, especially for people with mental illnesses.
Data Behind How Extreme Heat Affects Mental Health
Several studies have shown that rising temperatures are associated with increased rates of emergency department visits for various mental health conditions, including mood disorders, anxiety and stress disorders, schizophrenia, substance use disorders, and self-harm.
Other research suggests that heat waves may even have fatal consequences for individuals with certain mental health conditions as the risk of death during a heatwave is twice as high for those with mental illness compared to the general population (1✔ ✔Trusted Source
Association Between Ambient Heat and Risk of Emergency Department Visits for Mental Health Among US Adults, 2010 to 2019
Go to source).
Even suicide rates increase during abnormally hot months. A recent study showed that average monthly temperatures increased suicide rates by 0.7 percent in the United States and 2.1 percent in Mexico.
Why Does Extreme Heat Worsen Mental Health?
The exact reason why extreme heat is linked to worsening mental health symptoms is unknown. Several complex factors probably play a role.
Extreme heat could affect brain function in several ways. An area of the brain called the hypothalamus, which helps keep the body’s internal temperature in check. It may not function normally when people are exposed to extreme heat.
Research also shows that extreme heat may hamper working memory and attention. In a study, college students who studied in rooms without air conditioning during a heatwave performed as much as 13.4 percent worse than their peers.
Heat may also interfere with the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood and alleviate aggression. Though more research is needed to better understand the brain’s response to extreme heat, it is clear that brain chemistry plays a role.
Even certain mental health conditions may predispose you to heat issues. There is some evidence that mental illness itself may have some adverse impacts on thermoregulation in the body.
People with schizophrenia have a harder time adjusting to hotter temperatures than people without this condition. In a more recent study, scientists found that exposure to heat was associated with an elevated risk of hospitalization among people with schizophrenia (2✔ ✔Trusted Source
Is there an association between hot weather and poor mental health outcomes? A systematic review and meta-analysis
Go to source).
The medicines people with mental health conditions take to control their symptoms may affect how their bodies respond to heat. Therefore, Individuals who take psychiatric medications should talk with their doctors about the risks and benefits of using their medicines during heatwaves.
When a heat wave strikes, sleep often suffers. This lack of quality sleep could have a ripple effect on people with mental health conditions. Disturbed sleep during extreme heat might be the biological mechanism that contributes to increased rates of emergency department visits, so these may be important things for patients to monitor.
How to Maintain Your Mental Health During Heatwave
It is important for people with a preexisting mental health condition, to take specific steps to stay cool during extreme heat. Proactive steps to avoid overheating will be your number one tool to lower all these risks. Here are some simple but effective ways to stay cool during a heatwave (3✔ ✔Trusted Source
Hot weather and heat extremes: health risks
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Keep rooms cool. Lower the shades to reduce heat, and use a fan. Jump in a cool shower or place a cool cloth on your face, neck, or arms to help counteract hot temperatures. Loose cotton fabrics are best for staying cool. Also, consider using protective gear like a hat and sunglasses.
Be sure to drink water throughout the day but try to avoid beverages that contain caffeine and alcohol, because they can be dehydrating. On an ordinary day, women should consume about 11.5 cups of water per day, and men should consume about 15.5 cups per day.
Watch out for symptoms of heat exhaustion, including intense sweating, a weak and rapid pulse, nausea or vomiting, and weakness or tiredness. If you have symptoms of heatstroke, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately.
- Association Between Ambient Heat and Risk of Emergency Department Visits for Mental Health Among US Adults, 2010 to 2019 – (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2789481)
- Is there an association between hot weather and poor mental health outcomes? A systematic review and meta-analysis – (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33799230/)
- Hot weather and heat extremes: health risks – (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01208-3/fulltext)
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