Explained: How Extreme Heat Can Affect Your Mental Health

During heat waves, hospital admissions for mental health problems increase. The past 10 years have been the hottest on record, and as we prepare for another scorching summer, it’s time to take steps to increase our preparedness for extreme heat.

The potential for heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke is well known. dangers of extreme heat. However, physical health is not the only factor to consider in extreme heat; Mental health can also be affected. Many people can identify with the sleepless nights during the hot summer monthsas well as anecdotal experiences of irritation and aggression when it is thermally uncomfortable.

But for those living with mental illness, the danger of extreme heat is more serious than temperamental responses to everyday disturbances. Of my investigation in Phoenix, Arizona and work of others During the 2021 heat dome in British Columbia, we know that heat is exacerbating existing mental illnesses, increasing the chances of hospitalization and even death in warmer conditions for people with schizophrenia.

Researchers increasingly identify interactions between environment and health as public health problems. like air and water quality issues, as well as Number of deaths due to heat., appear in the headlines. Research has shown that the lowest socioeconomic groups, racialized people and the evictedare at greater risk of exposure to warmer conditions, while older adults They are more vulnerable to warmer conditions.

Heat and mental illness

The relationship between mental illness and temperature has recently been quantified as medical records and understanding of mental illness have improved. My work as an urban climatologist focuses on the impact of urbanization and heat on human health. I explore the variety of unexpected impacts of heat on people. Specifically, I have studied the population diagnosed with schizophrenia.

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Schizophrenia It is a mental illness that alters the transmission of information to the brain. The most affected part of the brain also houses our thermoregulatory functions. It’s the part that tells us that we are too hot and should start sweating or that we are too cold and should shiver to stay warm.

So, people with schizophrenia cannot respond to extreme heat as the general population does; Their bodies don’t tell them to take precautions. Additionally, medications used to treat schizophrenia also raise core body temperature. This means that when taking the drug, people with schizophrenia are closer to the thresholds for heat stress and stroke than the general population.

By studying hospitalizations for schizophrenia in Phoenix (where summer nighttime low temperatures average 30C) between 2006 and 2014, I found that minimum air temperature (the nighttime low temperature) has a significant relationship with the number of hospitalizations for schizophrenia. on that day and the next day. About three percent of all schizophrenia hospitalizations during that period can be attributed to low nighttime temperatures.

The risk is greater in both extreme cold (less than 3 C) and extreme heat (more than 30 C) conditions. These hospitalizations cost the Phoenix healthcare system more than $2 million (in 2024 dollars). Certainly, Canadians see conditions much colder than 3 C at night, but they rarely experience nighttime lows above 30 C; However the heat dome 2021 resulted in more 600 deaths in BC and the researchers discovered that Schizophrenia was the chronic disease most associated with the risk of death during extreme heat..

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Extreme heat can have devastating impacts on those living with mental illness, our healthcare system, and our communities.

Schizophrenia is not the most common mental illness in Canada. However, it can serve as an example of how environmental problems can affect mental illness. One in five Canadians suffers from mental illness each year.. More than 250,000 young Canadians experience severe depression and systemic inequalities exacerbated by disparities in the treatment and care of those suffering from mental illness.

While there are many different factors that can contribute to mental illness, heat plays a pervasive role in a wide range of situations. mental health problems. Taking whatever steps we can to reduce this burden for those living with mental illness can also have knock-on benefits for the rest of society, such as reduced use of hospital emergency departments during heat waves.

Tackling climate change

So if climate change continues to cause hotter summers, what can be done to prevent these hospitalizations and deaths? There are measures that have broader benefits beyond improving mental illness outcomes during extreme heat.

A common first step is to ensure all Canadians have access to air conditioning. Statistics Canada highlighted the importance of air conditioning for vulnerable populations. Warming conditions mean parts of Canada that didn’t need air conditioning 30 years ago may now become Oppressive heat inside buildings without adequate cooling..

However, the air conditioning is dependent on the electrical grid and continues to produce waste heat and greenhouse gas emissions. There is a better way: design our cities to be greener. There are many previously known benefits of making cities greener; reducing the urban heat islandimproving air quality and in some cases increase in property values (both positive and negative results).

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However, there are some mental health benefits as well. I contributed to a urban green mitigation science review and highlighted mental health benefits, including reducing depression, irritation and aggression.

Urban green spaces have been shown to improve mood, self-esteem and even accelerate recovery from illness. So when the temperature rises and you turn on the air conditioning and reach for cold drinks, remember that for all of us there are impacts beyond physical health, and pause to notice how the heat influences your mood.

Extreme heat will continue to affect Canada (and increasingly so as the climate changes). However, the negative impacts on the most vulnerable, including those living with mental illness, can be reduced, in part, by taking steps to ensure that our cities benefit us all.

Peter CrankAssistant Professor of Geography, University of Waterloo

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated channel.)

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