July is the height of the summer season-known for family vacations, trips to the beach and long lazy days in the sun. We may not often think about how temperatures seem to be rising, and scientists now generally agree that the planet is warming. In fact, a study conducted by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts global temperatures will increase by nearly 35 degrees Fahrenheit(!) by 2040.
Weather, and particularly heat, effects people in many ways. Well studied and widely shared are stories about heat related deaths-very often among the elderly. However, this is only part of the story. Often people do not seek intervention for heat related issues or when they present to emergency services they are treated and released without hospitalization. This is particularly common when it is a mental health emergency
To understand the impact of higher temperatures on mental health, two studies were conducted which examined general mood and emergency room visits related to the summer heat.
The first study was conducted over a 10-year period (2002-2012) using self-reported data collected from a sample of two million randomly selected U. S. residents. Results showed that when the average maximum temperatures increased by 33.8 degrees, there was also a 2% increase in self-reported mental health issues. The second, more rigorous study gathered anonymized data using insurance records from individuals who used emergency services showed similar results. This study examined records from 2.2 million adults between 2010-2019 during the summer months (May to September). The strongest association found was for adults between the ages of 18 – 64, which showed a 66% increased risk of emergency room visits on extreme heat days. There was a 10.3% higher risk of ER visits for people ages 45-54 and only a 3.6% higher risk for those 75 and over. These numbers were higher in the northern states as residents may have less experience or resources to deal with higher temperatures than those living in the south.
Emergency room visits are some of the costliest medical services available. An unexpected increase in mental health visits to the ER stress a system that may also be dealing with other unpredictable increases (natural disasters, accidents, COVID, etc). And the human cost is even higher, with the greatest number of ER visits linked to stress and anxiety, mood-related disorders, and substance use, along with an increase of childhood-onset behavioral disorders, schizophrenia, and suicidal ideation. These results were more pronounced for low-income individuals, particularly women.
Information gleaned from these studies along with readily available weather data can inform clinical and public health leaders to better anticipate and prepare for extreme heat days/months.
On a smaller scale the Rose Hill Center staff recognize this information and plan accordingly. Our campus is situated on 412 acres of rolling hills and trees with large sunny areas and plenty of room to be outdoors. As well, our Michigan climate is constantly changing from hot to cold and back again, sometimes all in one day! We also understand how weather can impact individuals with mental health conditions and that’s why we have well developed policies and procedures to help residents stay healthy and safe no matter what it’s like outside.
It is said that if you want to see the sunshine you have to weather the storm! Therefore, we hope that YOU are staying weather aware and wish you a very happy, safe, and warm summer!