Heat Waves “Burn Off” Mental Health Alarms

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

Summer is for many of us the best time of the year because we can tan, rest and enjoy the sun. However, this year heat waves have turned into nightmares because they caused deaths, airport closures and mental health problems.

If we go around the world, the panorama is not encouraging. For example, in the United Kingdom for first time in history, temperatures exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a situation that has caused 10 forest fires around  London, the temporary closure of some runways in the main airport due to melting of the pavement, and the attention of  firefighters to more than 400 calls per hour as a result of this heat wave.

Tunisia recorded a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking a 40-year record; Shanghai reported a temperature of 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit, tying its all-time record, which was set in 2017 [1] ; in Spain and Portugal, more than 1,000 people have died from heat-related in recent days [2] .

As stated by different experts, the heat wave is a result of global warming. For example, according to Dr. Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute who has contributed to and led several major climate change assessments: “Pretty much any weather event is influenced by climate change. As scientists we can estimate how much climate change has made a certain event more likely or more intense than it would have been without climate change [3] .”

This situation is disturbing but it seems that it continues without worrying us. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC [4]), some of the negative consequences we face include:

  • Increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease
  • Injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events
  • Changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food
  • Water-borne illnesses
  • Infectious diseases

But, did you know that heat waves also affect our mental health? They can cause:

  • Mild stress and distress
  • High risk coping behavior such as increased alcohol use
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-Traumatic Stress

“Climate change-related impacts can also lead to job loss, force people to move, or lead to a loss of social support and community resources- all of which have mental health consequences. In addition, anticipation of extreme weather events and concern about the phenomenon of climate change can be stressful [5] .”

The worrying situation of heat waves does not stop here, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, population migration linked to climate change is already happening. Each year since 2008, on average, more than 20 million people are forced to move because of weather-related events, such as floods, storms, wildfires or extreme temperature. Many others are leaving their homes because of slower moving events, such as droughts or coastal erosion [6] .

While the climate changes, it is important that we all take actions to take care of the environment, prevent these severe changes and prevent damage to our mental well-being.

Climate Change & Youth Mental Health Psychological Impacts, Resilience Resources and Future Directions [7]  recommends that we:

  • Acknowledge our feelings: Having difficult emotions about climate change is natural and warranted, and many people around the world share our feelings.
  • Use emotional coping tools: For example mindful meditation, take a breath, to be grateful, think before acting, etc..
  • Connect with others: Engaging with others, especially those who are also coping with climate anxiety – can help us understand that we are not alone.
  • Connect with nature: Spending time in nature can calm our nervous systems, ease stress, and reduce rumination.Take action: Taking meaningful action to combat climate change is one of the most powerful things we can do with potential benefits not only for our mental health and wellbeing, but also for society as a whole. Become climate justice aware: Cultivate an awareness of how the burden of pollution and environmental disasters falls disproportionately on different communities.
  • Engage in self-care: Take time for ourselves by going for a walk, cooking a meal, taking a nap or engaging in any activity that triggers positive feelings and a sense of a well-being.

We can begin to change the future of our common home today. Mother earth is crying out for us to take care of her. Every small action will make a difference and will help us enjoy normal summers again and have better emotional well-being.









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