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Stay Cool to Stay Well this Summer

Heat waves can harm mental health – here’s what you need to know

As the temperatures climb into the 90’s this summer, chances are you’re not feeling your best physically, but did you know that extreme heat can negatively affect your mental health too?

summer sun

A 2021 study that examined medical records for more than 2.2 million adults who visited emergency rooms around the country found there was an 8% increase in emergency room visits for mental health issues on the hottest days of summer. Additional studies have found there are slight increases in rates of suicide, relapses in bipolar disorder and more deaths among people with schizophrenia and other mental health conditions. Temperatures have even been connected to an increase in hate speech online during the heat waves and cold fronts in summer and winter.

There are many theories as to why sustained high temperatures have such a negative impact including:

  • Increased stress associated with body temperature regulation

  • Possible inflammation in the brain and an imbalance in brain signaling

  • Impaired brain function

  • Dehydration

  • Sleep disruptions

Disruption of sleep is a prominent theory that makes a lot of sense. During extreme heat waves, people experience more sleep disturbances due to feeling hotter. Since the body doesn’t cool as much when it’s hot outside, people don’t sleep as deep as they do during the colder months. The lack of sleep is known to worsen mental health.

So, what can you do to protect your mental health during the next heatwave?

  • Avoid going outside during the hottest parts of the day. Use air conditioning if possible or seek out a cooling center if you don’t have access to it at home. If you’re out and about, stop in shops or a library to cool down.

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Dehydration is unhealthy for our bodies, but it also worsens anxiety and mood disorders.

  • Be mindful of your medications. Many psychiatric medications can cause problems in extreme heat. For example, antipsychotic medications interfere with the body’s ability to cool itself, while stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin, increase blood pressure and can raise body temperature. Additionally, many medications for physical conditions cause sun sensitivity.

  • Make a plan. If you have a mental health condition, make a plan to find extra support during the summer months if you find you’re not feeling your best. Attend a free support group or incorporate more self-care activities into your days. Just make sure if you are doing anything outside to plan the activity for the coolest part of the day.

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