Trigger warning: This article mentions the climate crisis, mental illnesses, domestic violence, and self-harm
There’s a relationship between the climate crisis and mental health, but it doesn’t just stop at being depressed because the planet is burning. As we all probably know by now, heat directly impacts how the brain works. Extreme temperatures can negatively impact how our neurons fire and temporarily affect functionality.
Extreme heat is defined as temperatures that exceed the 95th percentile of temperature distribution in the area. Simply put, if the temperature that day is hotter than 95 percent of the average temperature in the area, it qualifies as an “extreme heat” situation.
In countries like the United States, emergency rooms see a spike in visits related to mental health during the hottest months of the year. Hospitals have to prepare for an influx of patients with panic attacks, substance abuse disorders, and other mental illness-related causes during the summer or during heatwaves.
Suicides and cases of domestic violence are also more common during the hottest months.
The relationship between the changing climate and human behavior is something that the medical community is further exploring amid the ongoing climate crisis. With events like earthquakes and typhoons, the effect on mental health is easily discernible. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the things people can expect to experience after a natural disaster.
The relationship between heat and mental illness is not as straightforward.
Unlike the relationship between cognitive function and heat, there’s not one single reason that can explain this change in behavior or the increase in mental health symptoms.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), there could be several factors that could exacerbate symptoms, like the type of illness the person has, what medication they’re taking, and overall sleep quality—which is known to decrease when temperatures rise.
For instance, people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia could have trouble regulating body temperature, which affects their mood. Some mood stabilizing medications and antidepressants also affect the body’s capability to regulate temperature, which may result in a flare up of symptoms.
The Philippines—along with other developing countries—is a disproportionate victim of the climate crisis. Extreme weather phenomena have sadly become commonplace due to factors out of our control. Along with typhoons and extreme heat, our mental health is now more than ever at risk.
We’ve been tagged by the people in power as a resilient bunch versus calamities while whatever actions they take remain almost criminally insufficient. But how long are we going to let the “resilience” excuse slide?