FEB 25, 2022 7:00 PM PST

High Temperatures Send More People to the ER for Mental Health Emergencies

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Lott

High summer temperatures take a toll on the human body. Heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and dehydration are often caused by extreme temperatures, and many other conditions are worsened under the stress of heat extremes. And climate change is making our heatwaves longer and more intense. Many of the warmest years on record for the US have occurred in the last decade, and the trend is expected to continue through our lifetimes.

But physical conditions are not our only problems exacerbated by warm weather. Mental health is also worsened under the stress of high temperatures. While smaller studies have been conducted before, scientists have now published the largest study on the link between mental health emergency room visits and warm temperature days; and they found that adults are more likely to visit the ER for mental health concerns on the hottest summer days.

The scientists looked at warm-season temperatures between 2010 and 2019, 3.5 million emergency department visits, and the medical information of 200 million commercial health insurance and Medicare-enrolled patients. The hottest days for each county were strongly associated with childhood-onset disorders and substance abuse disorders, followed by others like anxiety, stress, and mood disorders like schizophrenia, delusions, and self-harm.

Other interesting results included that northern regions of the US were more affected by extreme heat than southern regions, perhaps because those people are less adapted to extreme heat. Also, men were more strongly affected than women, and ages were not differently affected. Explanations for the results include disrupted sleep due to elevated temperatures contributing to stress, daytime discomfort, or anxiety over the indisputable changes climate change is making to our weather patterns.

These results can inform mental health professionals and the general population to be more aware and prepared when heat waves are forecasted. Hospitals and mental health clinics can increase their capacity and their outreach to vulnerable populations they know already struggle with mental health. Friends and neighbors can also be extra aware of supporting each other and prevent additional stress on hot summer days, and hopefully, we can keep our mental health stable as the planet continues to warm.

Sources: JAMA Psychiatry, Eureka Alert

About the Author
MS in Renewable Natural Resources
A dedicated and passionate naturalist, nature photographer, and freshwater biologist.
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