Anxiety, stress, violent reactions – this is how extreme heat affects mental health


Anxiety, stress, violent reactions – this is how extreme heat affects mental health
Written by aquitodovale

from Cristina Marrone

High temperatures are linked to worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression. Cognitive ability is also decreasing and aggression is growing: it is estimated that by 2090 crime could grow by 5% globally

Heat waves have a huge impact on our physical and mental health. Doctors know this because in the hottest periods hospital emergency rooms quickly fill up with patients suffering from dehydration, fainting and delirium. In Italy specific bulletins are sent by the Regions to the emergency room with a scale of alerts: that is to say, attention, a greater influx is expected (based on the expected temperature and humidity). As The Conversation reports, recent studies highlight a increase in emergency room visits by at least 10% on days when temperatures reach or exceed 5% of the average temperature of the place under consideration.

They increase anxiety and depression

Extreme heat can have serious consequences on our cardiovascular health and the most feared event is the dangerous heat stroke. However, rising temperatures can also worsen mental health symptoms. Heat waves, as well as other weather events such as floods and fires, have been linked to an increase in depressive symptoms in people who already suffer from this disorder and anxiety symptoms in those with generalized anxiety. Furthermore, a link has been observed between high fever and suicide attempts and suicides: for each degree higher than the average monthly temperature, mental health deaths increase by 2.2% and humidity spikes would be linked to a greater number of suicides . A review of studies found a correlation between high temperatures and high humidity with worsening bipolar disorder with an increase in manic episodes.

The effectiveness of drugs

Heat may also hinder the effectiveness of some drugs used to treat psychiatric illness, reducing their effects and interfering with body temperature regulation, particularly among the elderly.We know that many drugs increase the risk of heat-related death, such as example the antipsychoticswhich can suppress thirst by causing dehydration in people write Laurence WainwrightProfessor of Sustainability, Business and Environment at the University of Oxford e Eileen Neumann, researcher of neuroscience at the University of Zurich. Some drugs – they explain – will work differently depending on the body temperature and how dehydrated the patient is, such as lithiuma very powerful and widely used mood stabilizer, often prescribed for people with bipolar disorder.

Cognitive ability decreases

Heat (but also extreme cold) can for affect mental health and cognitive ability even of people who do not suffer from mental health disorders because heat stress can damage the areas of the brain that deal with the solution of complex cognitive tasks. An interesting study involving Boston students during a heat wave in 2016 found that the group that worked in a classroom without air conditioning performed 13% worse on cognitive tests than their peers who were cool. ; the reaction time was also 13% slower.

Increases aggression (and crime)

When people fail to think well because of the heat they are likely to experience frustration which in turn can lead to increased impulsivity and consequently to episodes of aggression and violence because the levels of serotonin in the brain, which among other things keeps aggression at bay, strongly influenced by high temperatures (the most heinous crimes, but also the most banal quarrels between motorists, the chronicle tells us, are more frequent in summer). There are numerous studies that link extreme heat with a increase in violent crime. An increase of only 1-2 degrees in temperature would lead to a 3-5% increase in aggression. It is estimated that by 2090, climate change could be responsible for an increase of up to 5% in crime globally.

July 18, 2022 (change July 18, 2022 | 17:16)

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