MENTAL HEALTH

Here’s how the heat can affect your mental health

Jul 19, 2023, 11:00 AM | Updated: 3:02 pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City broke another high-temperature record as July's heat wave continue...

A hiker finishes her hike early to beat high temperatures, Monday, July 10, 2023 in Phoenix. National Weather Service says Phoenix has had 10 consecutive days of 110 degrees or above. (Matt York/AP Photo)

(Matt York/AP Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY  — You’ve heard the term hangry before. It’s included in Webster’s Dictionary now and means irritable or angry from being hungry. Perhaps the dictionary should add a second definition — irritable or angry from being hot. TL;DR — heat can affect your mental health. 

“Heat, particularly excessive heat, can have many mental health impacts,” said Tammer Attallah, executive clinical director of the Behavioral Health Clinical Program at Intermountain Health. “The research bears that out. Everything from increased irritability, increased symptoms of depression, even some increase in suicidal ideation.”

Mental health professionals also see an increase in aggression, incidences of domestic violence and increases in alcohol use during the hottest months of the year.

“There was a study that looked at 2,000 people who went to the emergency room for behavioral health issues,” Attallah explained, “and there was an 8% increase in emergency room visits for behavioral health [when it’s hot].”

Heat impacts more than we know

Excessive heat impacts our memory, attention and reaction time.

“We know excessive heat without appropriate cooling affects people’s sleep,” said Attallah. “When sleep is affected, it increases problems with mental wellness.”

The research indicates that people who have fewer resources are more affected by the heat than those with more ample incomes because staying cool sometimes costs money.

Stay healthy when you exercise or play outdoors

“This creates extra vulnerability for those who don’t have the resources, for those who can’t find a place to stay cool or are experiencing housing insecurity,” Attallah said.

For people who have preexisting mental health issues, heat can really exacerbate those issues.

“We even know that for people who are taking medications for mental health, heat creates sensitivity for them.”

None of us is immune. Attallah explained there are studies that show both children and adults, male and female, are affected by heat. The effect is across the spectrum.

What can be done?

When it comes to the effect heat has on our mental health and stability, the biggest thing is for people to be aware.

“Just being aware that heat has an impact on all of us, just being patient with each other,” said Attallah. “Let’s keep that in mind as we interact with each other so that we can be more supportive.”

So, maybe if your spouse or coworker seems angry, he/she might just be overheated. Keep that in mind as we slog through the dog days of summer.

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Here’s how the heat can affect your mental health