Many people in this country are now aware of the far-reaching effects that heat waves have on physical health. However, the fact that mental well-being also suffers when it is hot and that mental illnesses can be the result has so far hardly been noticed.
“Heat waves not only pose a threat to physical health, but also have serious effects on the psyche,” warns the Medical University of Vienna in a recent press release. The risk should not be underestimated.
Growing awareness of the problem
Since it became frighteningly clear last year that Central Europe has so far been poorly prepared for heat waves, public and political awareness of the problem seems to have increased significantly.
However, the focus is usually on the acute effects of the heat on physical well-being. However, due to the enormous stress caused by persistent temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, there is also a risk of psychological problems, including anxiety disorders and depression, explains Hans-Peter Hutter from MedUni Vienna.
Heat waves strain the psyche
The individual hot days are less of a problem for mental health than the repeated heat waves, i.e. temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius for at least three days in a row.
The persistent heat initially has a direct impact on behavior and increases the potential for aggression, which is also reflected in an increase in violent crimes such as an increase in domestic violence.
At the same time, the heat stress has a dampening effect on the psyche. Exhaustion with lethargy and apathy, depressed mood and reduced mental performance are possible consequences.
According to the environmental medicine specialist, this can be observed in particular in urban conurbations and agglomerations, where there is an increasing lack of cooling and, consequently, relaxation, even at night.
depression, anxiety disorders and suicide
According to the expert, repeated heat waves also lead to increasing alcohol and substance consumption as well as increased anxiety disorders and depression. And in those who are already affected, it is possible that the symptoms of their mental illness will intensify.
Last but not least, global warming also results in an increasing suicide rate: “According to scientific estimates, an increase in the average temperature by one degree Celsius is associated with an increase in the suicide rate by one percentage point,” emphasizes the environmental doctor.
Who is particularly at risk?
Older, weaker people and socially disadvantaged people, who often cannot escape the heat, are particularly affected by the negative consequences of heat waves.
“Investigations by MedUni Vienna have shown that during a heat wave, these groups in particular experience increased anxiety and depression,” adds Hutter.
In view of the predicted increase in hot days in the coming years, the psychological consequences of the climate crisis should not be underestimated, the expert warns. (fp)