Hot in Here: heat waves and mental health

The extreme heat that much of the country is experiencing this summer has significant impacts on mental health alongside serious physical health impacts. Some groups, including people with pre-existing mental health conditions, are especially vulnerable.

Extreme heat has been associated with a range of mental health impacts in extensive research over many years, including increases in irritability, anxiety, impulsivity, frustration, symptoms of depression, uptick in psychotic symptoms, and an increase in suicide. It can also affect behavior, contributing to increased aggression, incidence of domestic violence, and increased use of alcohol or other substances to cope with stress. Rates of homicide, physical conflict, and sexual assault go up during heat waves. Learn more: Packing the Heat

Research has also linked high temperatures to problems with memory, attention and reaction time. Sleep difficulties associated with extreme heat can contribute to and exacerbate mental health symptoms. Heat makes us sluggish. Not surprisingly, high heat countries along the equator often have a business model where everything shuts down during the hottest part of the day, and subsequently stay open later into the evening.

It is also easy to miss emotional and psychological turmoil that does not necessarily rise to the clinical level. Even when these experiences don’t lead to an official mental health or diagnosis, they influence people’s well-being. Writ large, temperature spikes can send a shockwave of angst through multiple households. For example, the stressed parent trying to stay patient with a screaming and bored toddler in an overheated house during a summer of heat waves. People with older or vulnerable companion animals who must be monitored because heat can be lethal. Or a senior who feels trapped and scared in the midst of record-high temperatures. As Earth gets hotter and human populations skew older, medical and cognitive problems and heat-related fatalities among older adults are expected to grow. Learn more: The Effects on Heat on Older Adults.

Heat: It’s knocking at the door, it’s ringing the bell. Ignoring it is not a great choice.

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Embolden Psychology
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