Heatwaves & Mental Health: Can High Temperatures Cause Anxiety?

Studies shows that high temperatures and sweltering heat are linked with a significant increase in mental fatigue.

2 min read

Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

As the temperature continues to soar, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has issued a red alert warning in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other regions of North India.

High temperatures in summer are almost synonymous with physical illnesses – fainting, dehydration, heat strokes, and nausea.

But did you know that heatwaves can impact our mental health too?

When the monthly average temperature increases by 1 degree Celsius,

  • Mental health-related deaths increase by 2.2 percent (World Economic Forum Report 2022)

  • Suicide rates increased by 0.7 percent in the United States alone (2018 study published in Nature Climate Change)

  • Interpersonal violence and group violence increased by 4 percent and 14 percent respectively (2022 report in Down To Earth)

  • Assaults increased by 3-5 percent

  • Patients going into emergency rooms increased by 10 percent

That's right.

'Mental Fatigue & Mood Disorders': Impact Of High Temperatures

Temperatures in India during summer months often reach 38, 39, and even 40 degree Celsius. But the maximum temperature that the human body can actually tolerate is only 42.3 degree Celsius. That's awfully close.

Research shows that soaring temperatures and sweltering heat are linked with a significant increase in:

  • Mental fatigue

  • Depression

  • Decreased cognitive abilities

  • Aggression 

  • Tendencies of violence

  • Mood disorders 

  • Schizophrenia 

  • Bipolar disorder and

  • Anxiety disorders

And who is at risk?
  • Those already battling mental health illnesses

  • Senior citizens

  • People with substance abuse issues


Why Our Brain Torments Us In Extreme Heat 

While there’s no concrete answer for why our brain can go berserk during heatwaves, there are certain factors that do play a role. 

For one, when the temperatures are unreasonably high, our hypothalamus (aka a part of our brain) tries to regulate our internal temperature. And this puts additional stress on our body. 

Secondly, heat can interrupt your sleep. It can also disrupt the way your body reacts to medications such as antidepressants.

Antidepressants or antipsychotics, on the other hand, reduce your thirst, which obviously is not a good thing in summers.

Not just that, the heat can screw with your serotonin levels that regulate your mood. 

This is a problem that’ll only increase with climate change.

What You Can Do?

  • Staying hydrated

  • Avoid going out in extreme heat

  • Prioritise your mental health

  • Seek help from the right places

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Topics:  Mental Health   Heatwaves 

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