How Rising Temperatures May Affect Mental Health

By Victoria Kim 08/01/18

A new article examined the grim link between high temperatures and suicide rates.

man sitting in front of a blaring fan on a hot day

Not only is climate change dangerous to the natural environment, one writer posits, it can negatively affect mental health as well.

In a new article, Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky cites research that has found that rising temperatures can increase the likelihood of suicide.

Most recently, a report by Marshall Burke and his colleagues of Stanford University, estimated that a “1 degree Celsius increase in average monthly temperature produces a 0.68% increase in the monthly suicide rate in the U.S.,” Bershidsky wrote. In Mexico, the resulting increase in the monthly suicide rate was even higher—2.1%.

This year’s North American heat wave may have come and gone, while western Europe is predicted to be hit next with dangerous heat during the first week of August, average temperatures are on the rise.

According to the U.S. Office for Coastal Management, the five warmest years on record in the United States all have occurred since 2006

This research is significant given that average temperatures are predicted to continue to rise. According to the Office for Coastal Management, if we continue on this trajectory, by 2050, “the average American will likely see 27 to 50 days over 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) each year.”

According to Burke’s research, this could have a grim impact on people’s mental health. His team calculated that a 2.5 degree increase in U.S. average temperatures by 2050 would increase the suicide rate by 1.4%, causing more than 14,000 more suicides.

Bershidsky cites other research that came to similar outcomes, showing that hotter temperatures affected suicide rates.

A report in 2007 from Lisa Page and colleagues at the London Institute of Psychiatry discovered that with “each degree above 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 degrees Fahrenheit), the suicide rate increased 3.8%.”

But despite discovering these correlations, it’s still a mystery as to why exactly weather can affect people in this way.

“While speculative, perhaps the most promising mechanism to link suicide with high temperatures is a psychological one,” wrote Page. “High temperatures have been found to lead individuals to behave in a more disinhibited, aggressive and violent manner, which might in turn result in an increased propensity for suicidal acts.”

Bershidsky concludes that based on this research, communities should make a “better effort” to deal with the effects of climate change by investing in mental health support.

During a heat wave, defined as a prolonged period of abnormally hot weather, it is advised to drink plenty of water and avoid strenuous activity during the midday and afternoon to avoid heat exhaustion or stroke, and to take care that the elderly, children and pets, especially, are kept out of the heat.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr