Don’t get Hot-Headed!

The heatwave is upon us!

The extreme heat that much of the country is encountering has influential impacts on mental health alongside the more well know issues of dehydration & heat stroke. Some, including people with pre-existing mental health conditions, are especially vulnerable.
Here’s the science behind it.

There’s a reason the terms “hot-headed,” & “so hot my blood boils.” exist. A 30-year study gave evidence linking extreme heat and aggression has shown, an increase in irritability, domestic violence, and increased use of alcohol or other substances to cope with stress. it has shown heat increases problems with memory, attention and reaction time. Sleep complications associated with extreme heat can heighten mental health symptoms.
There are multiple reasons that make people with mental illness’ particularly vulnerable. Schizophrenia can cause difficulties regulating body temperature and therefore changes in temperature can alter symptoms of mood disorders. While some medications can affect the way the body regulates temperature. For example, Lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder, it can increase the risk of dehydration, particularly on hotter days.

On average, there was an 8% rise in the rate of emergency hospital visits on days when the temperature was particularly high. Nearly all mental health conditions were affected, including stress, mood and anxiety disorders. Obviously, the climate crisis has only made the situation worse, with researchers saying their work could help mental health services and the NHS predict and prepare for times of greater influx.

The increased risk was slightly higher for men than for women, the scientists found, potentially because men are less likely to seek early help and may therefore need emergency care more frequently. The only major mental health disorders that did not prompt a rise in emergency visits on hot days were personality and behavioural disorders, which are relatively rare and therefore had a smaller sample.
The rise in emergency visit rates was similar for most disorders, the researchers said, indicating that the heat exacerbates existing conditions. This could be due to increasing daytime irritation or discomfort or by disruption of sleep during hot nights.

Sleep is paramount for overall well-being and good health. Insomnia creates adverse impacts on mood, depression, and cognition. For us to nod off into our normal Sleep pattern, our core body temperature needs to drop, during a heat wave, this obviously doesn’t happen as easily, these conditions can worsen with increased humidity. In cities, this tends to be more of an issue due to a lack of circulation throughout the city landscape and lack of air-conditioning or cool respite places.
Having windows open, light bedding & a fan, (if the noise doesn’t disturb you) during the night, can help to keep you cool, whilst light clothing, fans & cool drinks to keep hydrated, will undoubtedly help throughout the day.