Extreme heat makes it tougher to manage mental health


If you’re finding the heat too hot to handle, stop and seek help from a mental health professional or go to the hospital. — AFP

A heat wave is affecting parts of the United States, including much of the Southwest, through the Southeast and parts of Europe (and Malaysia). When temperatures soar, the heat can take a toll more than just physically.

Our well-being can suffer as well.

“A study of over two million people found an increased visit rate or incidence of people going to the emergency department with psychiatric and mental health-related concerns during periods of high heat,” says Dr Robert Bright, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist.

“It showed a higher level of visits for substance abuse, anxiety, mood disorders and even people with schizophrenia had an increased incidence of distress or issues with their illness, bringing them to the emergency department.”

A common side effect of extreme heat is irritability, which can arise from physical discomfort and disrupted sleep patterns.

The fatigue from sweating, working in the heat and the lack of quality sleep can leave people feeling stressed and on the edge.

Dr Bright says that others may be irritable due to heat.

That can lead to tempers flaring or even road rage.

“It’s really important for people to have grace for themselves and grace for other people. Everybody’s struggling.

“It truly is something that’s affecting every one of us, so step back and try to think through these things at a cognitive high-level.

“This is what’s happening.

“Recognise that and do not just react impulsively from that emotional part of your brain,” says Dr Bright.

Heat and psychiatric medications

Certain medications can heighten the risk of heat-related issues from a psychiatric and medical perspective.

Diuretics, for instance, can cause increased urine output, leading to dehydration, mental status changes and confusion.

“Medications used for mental health for illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar illness, can change your regulation of heat and your ability to sense that you’re too hot, along with your ability to sweat.

“I’ve seen people walk around with heavy mink coats when it’s 37.7 to 40.6 degree Celsius outside not recognising that because of their lack of thermo regulation or ability to regulate their body temperature,” says Dr Bright.

Dehydration can also affect levels of some medications, such as lithium – which can become more concentrated in the body and potentially lead to toxicity.

“If you get dehydrated, your lithium level can rise significantly. Lithium has a very narrow therapeutic range.

“And you can become quite toxic with lithium, which can lead to heart arrhythmias, coma, seizures and even death, if it got severe enough,” Dr Bright says.

Drinking plenty of water and staying cool can help mitigate these risks.

If you need help, seek help.

“If you’re feeling really overwhelmed and as though you truly can’t cope, then it’s time to reach out for help,” says Dr Bright. “Whether that is walking into an emergency room and asking for assistance or contacting a therapist or counsellor.”

Finding ways to stay cool may be a good starting point to help reduce periods of intense heat.

Dr Bright says he knows not all people have air conditioning and recommends trying public spaces that may offer relief if you don’t have access at home.

“If you don’t have a place where you have air conditioning, and if you can, go to a cool place with air conditioning, go to the mall, go wherever it might be that you can go hang out for the day, go to the library to do those things to relieve yourself of some of the stress of the heat,” says Dr Bright. – Mayo Clinic News Network/Tribune News Service

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Heat , Psychiatry , Mental Health


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