Hotter temperatures could worsen mental health, study says
This is bigger than seasonal affective disorder
HEALTH Mental health
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed empirical evidence that rising temperatures, more frequent hurricanes, and increased precipitation are all associated with a higher prevalence of mental health issues in the US—a problem that will only get worse as the climate continues to change.
The study looked at a randomly selected sample of more than two million Americans from 2002-2012 and found a correlation between an increase in average maximum temperatures and an increase in self-reported mental health issues.
While the destructive and sometimes traumatic nature of hurricanes can be expected to negatively affect mental health, a wetter climate also appeared to have a similar effect. Months with more than 25 days of precipitation were linked to a 2% increase in the probability of reported stress and depression as compared to months with fewer wet days. The principle is similar to seasonal affective disorder, but the scale is much, much larger.
Lead author Nick Obradovich, a political scientist who researches the societal impact of climate change at the MIT Media Lab, believes the connection between mental health and global warming could be related to sleep. “When it’s hotter outside, people don’t sleep as well,” he says. “Repeated sleep deficiencies tend to produce all kinds of mental health problems—that could be the thing that’s driving all this.” Increased temperatures have also been tied to decreased productivity at work, which can be a huge source of depression or anxiety for many.
There have been many other studies that link a hotter climate to mental health, and Obradovich notes that a study published in Nature Climate Change found that increased temperatures in both the US and Mexico were closely associated with higher rates of suicide.
Increased rates of suicide and suicidal ideation, as well as higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, have also been linked to climate change in Canada and Australia, Psychology Today notes. Ashlee Cunsolo, a health researcher at Memorial University who studies climate change and mental health among Canada’s Indigenous populations and Australian farmers, has seen much more obvious effects in populations that rely more closely on the environment. For example, the drought in Australia directly affects people's livelihood, and the melting sea ice devastates Inuit villages and their longstanding cultural practices like seal-hunting.
So what can be done? Obradovich suggests a carbon tax that both reduces emissions and funds a greater mental health support system. Cunsolo suggests a more grassroots-level effort of community-building programs to help people connect with others, as well as individually seeking out strategies to fight climate change, like cutting down on meat consumption or opting for public transit. Essentially, it's doing what you can to reduce feelings of futility and powerlessness as we push through this impending climate crisis.
Cunsolo makes a harrowing point, however, about the pressure of the situation, made staggeringly clear by the latest UN Climate Report, and its relation to political action: “Often when I’m talking to policymakers, [they want] 20 years of empirical data to see what we’re dealing with,” she says. “We don’t have 20 years to waste.”