How Heat Waves Are Affecting Mental Health

How heat waves are affecting mental health

The summer is a time when people love to get outdoors, but it’s also a season when temperatures can soar. With greenhouse gasses causing an increase in temperatures year over year and more hot days happening annually, it’s important for people to understand how they could be affected by higher temperatures and what to do to get out of the heat.

Heat negatively affects the body. It can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health, especially when the heat is stifling for a prolonged period of time. By learning more about how heat affects mental health, you can get prepared and be ready for heat waves that are likely to increase in number in the future.

How Common Are Heat Waves, and Will They Get Worse?

Everyone loves a few hot days, but when they start to group up and happen too often, those hot days can lead to a heat wave emergency.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, heat waves are happening more often than they used to when looking at data from major cities in the United States. From the 1960s to the 2020s, the number of heat waves has steadily increased from two per year to six per year. The EPA also found that the average length of heat waves is around four days, which is approximately a day longer than average heat waves in the 1960s.

It is normal to have some unusually hot days, but they’re increasing in number. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions states that unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, it’s likely that temperatures will increase by at least another five degrees by mid-century or 10 degrees by late century. Unfortunately, that means more days will be above the typical highs of today. By mid-century, the National Climate Assessment states that between 20 to 30 more days could be above 90 degrees in most places.

How Heat Affects Mental Health and Physical Wellness

Increased and extreme heat can have a negative impact on your mental health because of the stress it places on your body. In general, people are more likely to be abrupt with one another and begin feeling more aggressive as they grow increasingly uncomfortable due to the heat.

The BU School of Public Health published a report about how extreme heat may be linked to an increase in mental health emergency care, too. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, there was an increased number of emergency department visits for mental health-related issues during days when temperatures soared higher than usual. This was true for multiple conditions, including anxiety and stress, substance use and mood disorders.

The study, which is the largest and most comprehensive documentation of how daily temperature impacts mental health, showed that emergency department visits increase as temperatures rise. Other studies have found additional links between higher temperatures and mental health problems. During the hottest days, it was much more likely to see higher rates of suicide, worse mental fatigue and increased rates of aggression. Since temperatures are expected to continue to rise in the future, it can only be expected that there will be a heavy strain on emergency rooms without quick interventions to lower temperatures or provide access to cooling options. These findings also show that there have to be preemptive actions to help the most vulnerable in society. Mental health and climate change are linked, so both need to be addressed to prevent issues.

As for physical health, keep in mind that the body can only take so much stress. Hot days can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Hotter temperatures are also linked to physical problems such as skin infections, kidney problems and preterm birth.

What Heat Waves Do to Our “Moods” and Mental Health

The most obvious problem caused by excessive heat is a change in behavior. Someone who is normally relaxed and well-behaved may be aggressive or angry during a heat wave. They may take extreme steps to cool down, too, potentially posing a threat to themselves and others.

It’s not 100% clear why the brain is negatively impacted by heat, but a study in New York found that it was more likely for people to have emergency room visits for dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety during heat waves. There is also the simple fact that high temperatures increase stress levels.

While a single day of higher-than-normal temperatures may not negatively impact your mood, several days of above-normal temperatures are likely to. As heat rises, stay prepared by drinking plenty of water and looking for a cool place to stay.

The Effects of Heat Waves on Society

There are tangential effects from heat waves on mental health that have to be considered, too. Heat waves can lead to some unusual behaviors, and those behaviors have a cost.

People may become uncomfortable and “cranky” when it gets too hot, and these feelings can lead to more than an increased number of emergency department visits. It’s also possible that there could be an uptick in violent or aggressive behavior. People who have to make important life decisions may make choices they regret later, and others may show signs of short fuses.

When you aren’t comfortable, you’re not going to be feeling your best or acting like your best self. As a result, it’s more common to see yourself doing things you wouldn’t normally consider doing. The same is true for others, which is why violent crime rates rise around 5.7% on high-temperature days and people find themselves in more conflicts.

Reach Out for Help From Restore

Extreme heat and mental health are linked, but you don’t need to turn to Dr. Google to diagnose yourself or someone you love. You can take steps to help yourself through difficult changes in temperature and stay on track with your mental health. Contact us at Restore to learn more.