Can Summer Heat Literally Drive People Crazy? Exploring the Mental Health Impact of High Temperatures

heat mental health

The Connection Between Hot Weather and Mental Health

Summertime is a season of contrasts. Kids are finally home from school but it’s too hot for them to go outside and play all day. And while the season tends to be associated with family vacations and relaxing days at the pool, there is also something about summer that seems to set people on edge. 

When the Bureau of Justice Statistics looked into seasonal crime patterns, they concluded that “serious violence was significantly higher in the summer” than in the other seasons, lending credence to the “heat hypothesis” that high temperatures come with increased aggression. Property crimes like burglary tend to shoot up during summertime as well. 

So how can summer temperatures negatively impact mental health in large enough numbers to make a notable difference in crime statistics?

The Mental Health Impact of High Heat

Heat alone may not cause people to act erratically, but it does take a toll on mental health. More people present at emergency rooms for issues related to mental health when the temperature is above 82 degrees, according to a study from Canada. Further research from California confirmed that rising temperatures correlate to increased mental health disorders, self-injury, and suicide visits to the ER. 

One possible explanation is that the physical effects of high heat on your body can also cause negative mental health impacts. 

Hot Weather Increases Stress

One reason may simply be that high temperatures increase stress, exacerbating existing mental health issues while also affecting the emotional wellbeing of people without preexisting mental health challenges. Stress itself isn’t a mental health issue, but it does create the conditions in which mental health challenges can develop. 

 

Prolonged stress can become a mental health issue when it becomes overwhelming, at which point anxiety and depression can easily develop and settle in. When temperatures hover significantly above the normal range for a region, people experience reduced positive emotions like joy and happiness, and an increase in stress, anger, and fatigue. The resulting increase in feelings of hostility and aggressive thoughts can result in a generally more irate public.

High Heat Makes it Harder to Sleep

 

High heat makes it harder to get enough sleep at night, which then affects your ability to think clearly, your alertness during the day, and your ability to withstand stress. A sleepless night here or there may just make you cranky the next day, but when you don’t get enough sleep over long periods of time, insufficient sleep can cause depression and increase the risk of suicide.

Dehydration and Heat Stroke Directly Impair Your Ability to Think

Hot weather health hazards associated with high summertime temperatures like dehydration and heatstroke can easily impact your mental health and your body alike. When you’re dehydrated, your body is lacking fluids and the all-important balance of electrolytes that make it possible for your brain to send signals to your muscles and keep your heart pumping, which can decrease cognitive function and increase anxiety. 

 

Even mild cases of dehydration can make it harder to think straight, making any task that demands attention more difficult. You only need to be dehydrated by about 2% for dehydration to impact your psychomotor skills, short-term memory, and subjective perceptions and judgments, and that in turn sets people on edge.

 

Dehydration can also lead to heatstroke, which occurs when your body can’t cool itself through natural processes like sweating and your internal temperature climbs past 104°F. The mental health effects of heatstroke include crankiness, hallucinations, confusion, violence, delirium, and in extreme cases long-term brain damage. 

 

Stay sane despite the summer heat by making sure you’re getting enough water, and avoid spending too much time outside without breaks to cool down to keep your body and your mind working at their full capacity.

 

For more health-related topics, tips, and recipes, make sure to follow along with our Hospitality Health ER blog. Dig deeper on the physical effects of not getting enough sleep in  “How to Adapt to Daylight Savings Time” or explore more ways to care for your child’s mind in “Prevent the Summer Slide: Getting Your Child to Read More.” For giveaways, updates, and COVID-19 tips, like us on Facebook and Instagram

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