Heat waves have harmful side effects on mental health – here’s what you need to know

Heat waves have a major impact on our physical and mental health. Doctors usually dread it, as emergency rooms quickly fill up with patients suffering from dehydration, delirium and fainting. Recent studies suggest at least a 10 percent increase in hospital emergency room visits on days when temperatures reach or exceed 5 percent of the normal temperature limit for a given location.

The insidious effect of heat

High temperatures can also worsen symptoms in those with mental health problems. Heat waves – as well as other weather events such as floods and fires – have been linked to an increase in depressive symptoms in people with depression and an increase in anxiety symptoms in those with generalized anxiety disorder – a condition where people feel anxious most of the time. Time.

There is also a link between high daily temperature and suicide and suicide attempts. And, roughly, for every 1 degree Celsius increase in average monthly temperature, mental health-related deaths increase by 2.2 percent. Increases in relative humidity also result in a higher occurrence of suicides.

Humidity and temperature – both of which are changing due to human-caused climate change – have been linked to an increase in manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. This condition causes significant harm and can result in hospitalization for psychosis.

Further problems are posed by the fact that the effectiveness of important drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions can be reduced by the effects of heat. We know that many medicines increase the risk of dying from heat, for example antipsychotics, which can suppress thirst resulting in people becoming dehydrated. Some medications will work differently depending on body temperature and how dehydrated the person is, such as lithium, a very powerful and widely used mood stabilizer often prescribed for people with bipolar disorder.

Heat waves: The hidden consequences

If it’s hot outside, try to keep your cool.Mikhail Reshetnikov / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Heat can also affect the mental health and ability to think and reason in people without a mental health condition. Research shows that areas of the brain responsible for framing and solving complex cognitive tasks are damaged by heat stress.

A study of students in Boston found that those who were in rooms without air conditioning during a heat wave performed 13 percent worse than their peers on cognitive tests and had a 13 percent slower reaction time.

When people can’t think clearly because of the heat, they’re more likely to get frustrated, which, in turn, can lead to aggression.

There is strong evidence linking extreme heat to increased violent crime. Even just a one or two degree Celsius increase in ambient temperatures can lead to a 3-5 percent increase in attacks.

By 2090, it is estimated that climate change could be responsible for an increase of up to 5 percent in all categories of crime globally. The reasons for these increases involve a complex interplay of psychological, social, and biological factors. For example, a brain chemical called serotonin, which, among other things, keeps levels of aggression in check is affected by high temperatures.

Hot days can also make eco-anxiety worse. In the UK, 60 percent of young people surveyed said they are very concerned or extremely concerned about climate change. More than 45 percent of respondents said that feelings about the climate affected their daily lives.

There is still much we do not understand about the complex interaction and feedback between climate change and mental health – particularly the effects of heat waves. But what we do know is that we are playing a dangerous game with ourselves and the planet. Heat waves, and their effects on our mental health, are important reminders that the best thing we can do to help ourselves and future generations is to act on climate change.

This article was originally published on Conversation from Laurence Wainwright and Eileen Neumann at the University of Zurich. Read the original article here.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the crisis text line at 741741. You can also contact the Trans Lifeline at 1- 877-565-8860, Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or your local suicide crisis center.

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