Heatwaves and their consequences on mental health
Many of us are feeling the effects of excessive heat around the country as the mercury continues to soar across cities and states. The news is also full of facts about how hot it is. According to the India Meteorological Department, the country's average maximum temperature in March 2022 was the highest in the last 122 years during the period between 1901 and 2022. Heatwaves can now be felt across states when the maximum temperature of a station reaches 40 °C in the plains and 30 °C in mountainous regions, or when it is at least 4.5 degrees Celsius above normal. Aside from the physical impacts of such high temperatures, such as exhaustion, heatstroke, drowsiness, and dehydration, various research has recently recognized the mental effects of heatwaves and excessive heat. Extreme heat has detrimental effects on mental health, wellness, life satisfaction, happiness, cognitive performance, and aggression, according to the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Children and teenagers, particularly girls, as well as those with existing mental, physical, and medical issues and the elderly, are particularly at danger, according to the chapter titled Health, Wellbeing, and the Changing Structure of Communities. In its 2021 climate change report, the Lancet also mentioned the impact of excessive heat on mental health around the world. Heat extremes linked to climate change offer a variety of dangers to mental health around the world, ranging from altered moods to increased mental health-related hospital admissions and suicidality.
Our environment and ecosystem are critical for our mental health, according to Mimansa Singh Tanwar, a clinical psychologist at Fortis Healthcare's Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences. The unpredictability of environmental change, she claims, has a profound impact on our day-to-day lives. Irritability, rage, and social isolation are some of the negative effects, which can lead to anxiety and mood disorders. When you are repeatedly exposed to anything that is not conducive to your mental health, it has an influence on your mental health and makes you more inclined to mental disease, according to Tanwar. Physical tiredness and restlessness on a physiological level as a result of the excessive heat, according to Tanwar, might contribute to the anxiousness. Similarly, being unable to connect with nature and your social circle due to the heat can generate unhappiness and exacerbate mental disorders. She goes on to say that the impacts of excessive heat are complex and frequently have a lot to do with socioeconomic variables. Dr. Ruksheda Syeda, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Mumbai, claims that high heat has a direct impact on sadness and anxiety. "What has also been noted is an increase in suicide rates—not just suicidal attempts, but suicide deaths," she adds.
According to a review of epidemiological data on heat exposure and mental health outcomes published in 2021, a one-degree Celsius increase in temperature causes a 2.2 percent increase in mental health-related death. In addition, India has a high number of farmer suicides as a result of indebtedness, as well as crop failures as a result of blistering heat, inadequate rainfall, and other extreme weather occurrences. As a result, there will be socio-economic pressures on marginalized communities as a result of heatwaves, as factors such as gender stress, poverty and economics, access to care, and quality of life have an impact on mental health. So, what can be done to close these gaps and raise awareness about the mental health effects of extreme weather such as heat waves? Dr. Ruksheda argues for systemic improvements such as better city planning, equitable healthcare distribution, and improved working circumstances, both in terms of workspaces and working hours, at the policy level.
Individual and community-level adjustments are required in addition to policy-level reforms and preparation. Tanwar advocates for a shift in mindset, one in which people recognise nature as a resource that they need and should appreciate. So, psychologically, if you think of it as simply myself and my surroundings, you're just another customer. However, we are not recognising the fact that we are all contributing to it, she stated. She believes that the environment plays a role in promoting positive mental health as a skill, work-life balance, and a connection to nature for individuals. Dr. Rukshida recommends that people take preventative actions such as becoming aware of heatwave-related symptoms, understanding how to care for the elderly and children in excessive heat, and contacting local physicians and public health centers. She wants people to realize that climate change has a biological basis and will affect our bodies. Individually, I believe we will be more responsible for climate change and self-help if we understand and recognize these distinct biological changes.