Extreme heat and mental health

People are better able to cope in high temperatures if the heat is consistently and predictably hot rather than if temperatures suddenly soar. Those already suffering from mental and physical illness are particularly at risk during heat waves.

If you have a physical or mental health condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, or you take certain medications (such as for depression, anxiety, insomnia, or poor circulation), you are at higher risk of health problems during the heat and may be more affected by extreme heat than others.

The medications you take may change your perception of the heat and how you respond to extremely hot weather, causing you to become dehydrated more quickly and to either sweat less or sweat more.

Since the body cools itself during hot temperatures by sweating, any change to your ability to sweat may be critical to your health. Alcohol and other kinds of drug abuse also raise the chances of injury or death during a hot spell.

Several studies suggest that more aggressive and antisocial behaviour can come simultaneously with high temperatures. Heat waves are known to affect mood and mental wellbeing, impair concentration and make people feel more tired. The frequency and extent of extremely hot days and nights are now clearly on the rise in much of country. Even putting aside the potential for lethal consequences, the injury, loss of productivity and impacts on daily life should give us pause for thought.

Keeping healthy

Take some extra precautions during the heat to prevent heat-related illnesses.

  • Listen to the weather reports on the radio or TV and try to plan ahead for hot days to avoid becoming affected by the heat.
  • Ask your doctor exactly what your risks are during the heat so you are aware of what you need to do to look after yourself.
  • Continue to take your prescribed medication(s) every day at the same time you normally do.
  • Try to ensure that your daily routine continues as usual.
  • Stay in touch regularly (at least daily) with family, friends and neighbours, especially if you live alone.
  • Keep a check of how you are feeling during hot weather.
  • Find out what the signs of heat-related illness are, so you know what to do if your body starts to feel the effects of the heat (for example, dizziness, muscle cramps or spasms, headaches, nausea).
  • Call your doctor (GP) or health professional if you feel or become unwell during the heat.