Heat Impacts on Mental Health
Research underlines the considerable impact summer heat can have on mental as well as physical health. Heat affects serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood, causing emotional and behavioral changes. These effects can be more intense in individuals with existing mental health conditions or those who partake in substance use, particularly alcohol.
Association of Heat and Mental Health Conditions
Extreme summer heat is known to majorly affect serotonin levels in the brain, leading to changes in emotions and behavior such as increased stress and fatigue, and decreased joy. Such changes can be more severe in people with pre-existing mental health conditions or in those who consume substances. Climate change, including temperature extremes and poor air quality, can compound mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Heat Effects on Behavior and Emotion
Excessive heat brings about changes in emotions and behavior resulting in feelings of anger, irritability, aggression, discomfort, stress, and fatigue. Heat affects serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood, leading to decreased levels of happiness and increased levels of stress.
Who are the Most Vulnerable?
Extremely vulnerable groups affected by heat and mental health include those with existing mental conditions and substance users, especially alcoholics. Those already stressed, angry, or anxious will experience increased effects. Substance users need to watch their hydration levels closely, especially when in the heat.
Awareness and Precautions
Knowing the signs of heat impacting mental health is important. These start with irritability, decreased motivation, aggressive behavior, and sometimes mental fogging. More severe cases can cause confusion and disorientation. Applying precautions like staying hydrated, keeping your head covered and doing activities in the shade can help. Talking to a healthcare provider about any medication use in extreme heat is crucial, some medications like lithium for bipolar disorder patients may not interact well in the heat.
Climate Change and Mental Health
Climate changes, including severe temperature changes or droughts, have been shown to precipitate negative effects on mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or PTSD, by increasing pollutants and allergens, and worsening air quality. Natural climate disasters reportedly increase the risk of depression by more than 30%, and anxiety by 70%.
Heat can have serious impacts on mental health, especially on those with pre-existing conditions and substance users. Awareness, understanding the signs, and adopting precautions can help mitigate some of these effects.
As a psychiatrist, I genuinely appreciate the insightful research conducted by the Baylor College of Medicine. This study accentuates the essential need for increased public awareness of the mental health impacts of extreme heat and severe climate change conditions, especially among individuals with pre-existing mental health concerns, and certain medication users.
Dr James Henderson, MD, Cure of Mind