Climate Change and Mental Health

Teresa Madaleno:

The impacts of climate change on our physical health are well reported; however, how fluctuations in global temperature impact mental health is something that has not received nearly as much attention. That could change with more scientists and health experts sounding the alarm.

A study recently published in the journal PLOS ONE indicates that hot days increase the likelihood that adults in the United States will complain of poor mental health. The research also suggests that people are willing to pay more to avoid hot days to counteract the impact on their mental well-being.

The research team looked at the relationship between mental health data of more than 3 million people and historical daily weather information over a period of close to 20 years. Cooler days reduced the probability of these people reporting bad mental health while hotter days increased probability of complaints about mental health. The willingness to pay to avoid bad days ranged from $2.6 to $ 4.6 per day.

Why heat impacts mental health

How exactly do hotter days have an influence over someone’s mental health? The American Psychology Association suggests that one reason is related to medications. Those who already suffer from physical or mental health issues can find that prescription medication impairs the body’s ability to regulate temperature, thus making them even more uncomfortable than the average person. Discomfort equals anxiety.

Here’s another factor to consider – flooding, drought, wildfires, and other severe weather events are happening more frequently and severely. This often takes a toll on people both physically and financially. The amount of grief these types of events cause can lead to depression and anxiety. In many cases, extreme weather events leave a lasting memory that causes constant fear. Many people are worried that another flood or fire is going to happen at any time.

Psychiatrists contend that exposure to extreme heat can lead to irritability and excessive alcohol consumption, which in turn can increase the likelihood of arguments and even domestic violence. Depression is a key factor linked to domestic violence.

People with pre-existing mental health problems are more vulnerable to climate change but no one is immune to the impact that rising temperatures can have on the mind. While experts have focused on undercovering and treating the physical impacts of climate change, we are reminded that there is yet another reason we must all do our part to mitigate rising temperature – our mental state depends on it.