Heat’s Stealth Impact: Mental Health Under Sun

Heat's Stealth Impact: Mental Health Under Sun

Heat's Stealth Impact: Mental Health Under Sun

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The sweltering heat brings with it a host of mental health challenges, exacerbating existing conditions and posing grave risks to vulnerable populations. 

29 May 2024

By Payoshi Bisht

As temperatures soar and another scorching summer looms, it’s not just our physical health that’s at risk. The sweltering heat brings with it a host of mental health challenges, exacerbating existing conditions and posing grave risks to vulnerable populations. Read as we explore the intersection of extreme heat and mental health, uncovering the hidden impacts and exploring solutions to mitigate its toll.

While heat waves are commonly associated with physical health risks, the mental health implications are often overlooked. From sleepless nights to heightened irritability, the psychological effects of extreme heat are far-reaching. For individuals living with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, the hazards of extreme heat are amplified, posing serious threats to their well-being.

The Impact of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, a complex mental illness affecting information processing in the brain, presents unique challenges in the face of extreme heat. Unlike the general population, individuals with schizophrenia may struggle to recognise and respond to heat-related dangers due to disruptions in thermoregulatory functions. Additionally, medications used to manage schizophrenia can further elevate core body temperature, increasing susceptibility to heat stress and stroke.

Research Insights

Delving into hospitalisation data from Phoenix, Arizona, a hotbed for summertime heat, reveals alarming trends. Minimum air temperatures, particularly overnight lows, emerge as key factors influencing hospital admissions for schizophrenia. With around three percent of all schizophrenia hospitalisations linked to overnight low temperatures, the risks are highest in both extremely cold and scorching conditions.

The Canadian Context

While Canadians may not experience overnight lows as extreme as those in Phoenix, the 2021 heat dome in British Columbia serves as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by extreme heat. Over 600 deaths were attributed to the heat wave, with schizophrenia emerging as the chronic condition most associated with mortality. As climate change intensifies, safeguarding mental health becomes imperative.

Solutions for a Resilient Future

Addressing the mental health impacts of extreme heat requires multifaceted solutions. Access to air conditioning emerges as a crucial first step, particularly for vulnerable populations. However, reliance on air conditioning poses its own challenges, including energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Designing cities with green spaces offers a sustainable alternative, with urban greenery shown to mitigate heat island effects and improve mental well-being.

The Power of Urban Greenery

Beyond temperature regulation, urban green spaces offer mental health benefits ranging from reduced depression to enhanced mood and self-esteem. By prioritising green infrastructure, cities can create healthier, more resilient environments for all residents. As temperatures rise, embracing the cooling embrace of green spaces can provide solace amidst the heat.