When the weather goes to extremes, be it hot or cold weather, you may sometimes notice your mood changing. In sub-Saharan Africa, the weather is usually mild or temperate, especially outside the arid or semi-arid land (ASAL) areas. Due to climate change, ASAL areas experience extremely high heat during the day and low temperatures at night. In highlands, the rainy seasons are colder and longer while the hot and dry seasons extend into drought. Not only does this affect daily life, and food production, but it can also affect mental health.
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How extreme heat affects mental health
The global north is experiencing record-high temperatures in the summer months. This has led to an uptick in suicides. Studies show that more people experience mental distress due to the increase in temperatures. A meta-analysis of multiple studies and research papers also found that higher temperatures lead to suicide, hospital admissions for mental illness, and worsened well-being.
If you live in a city or somewhere with plenty of concrete buildings, you’ll likely feel warmer than people who live in heavily forested areas. This is because concrete absorbs heat and insulates it within lanes and roads. Walking in the middle of a heavily constructed area can feel warmer than an open field. This can lead to increased feelings of discomfort, distress, and anxiety.
Houses that aren’t designed to be properly aerated also retain heat making it difficult to get enough sleep. Hot days leave you feeling exhausted while the nights make it hard to sleep. The increased exhaustion can disrupt your mood.
Heat exhaustion is also another cause of poor mental health during extreme heat. The illness that occurs during hot days includes symptoms like dizziness, nausea, and weakness. After prolonged exposure, it can lead to heat stroke which is characterised by confusion, headaches, and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness. The anxiety surrounding falling ill in extreme heat can be a contributor to poor mental health. There is also the worry about climate change and how you or your family will survive in the future. This is known as climate anxiety. With the accelerated development happening in global south countries, there is minimal consideration for sustainable living.
More equitable solutions are required to help tackle mental distress during hot weather such as accessible mental healthcare, water, green roofs, urban afforestation, and placing shades for pedestrians. Individuals can take various steps to reduce the effects of extreme heat such as wearing sunscreen, staying hydrated, wearing visors, avoiding staying in direct sunlight for extended periods, and eating hydrating foods. Climate Anxiety And How To Manage It
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How extreme cold weather affects mental health
Studies have found that extreme cold has an adverse effect on mental health. Colder temperatures affect the immune system. This increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as influenza, or the common cold.
The cold season often comes with rains that, due to climate change, are becoming heavier. This leads to flooding and food rot. Rains lead to increased energy and transport costs, which can reduce the amount of socialising that people do. This can lead to poor mental health, especially for people who thrive around company.
Extreme cold also affects people who don’t have a past of mental health problems. Some people experience seasonal affective disorder. This is the loss of energy, low mood, irritability, anxiety, weight gain, social withdrawal, and lethargy. It mostly affects people who live in the further ends of each hemisphere but occurs for people who haven’t experienced sunlight for extended periods. This can be because of a vitamin D deficiency or low serotonin levels. This can be managed by increasing the brightness in your home office, antidepressants, taking walks outside when possible, and vitamin D supplements.
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Are there other ways climate change affects mental health?
Extreme weather and climate anxiety aren’t the only ways that climate change can result in poor mental health. Research shows that floods and drought lead to a net decrease in global food supply. In addition, the higher the temperatures and carbon dioxide, the faster plants grow. This leads to nutritional loss as plants don’t absorb enough nutrients, especially zinc and iron. Zinc deficiency is associated with depression and psychosis. Here are 9 Great Supplements To Support Mental Health
Air pollution from fossil fuel use also lowers mental health. This is because polluted air particles can cause inflammation in the brain and nerve cells. This increases the risk of depression and can lead to more ADHD symptoms among children. Forest fires also increase the risk of dementia, psychosis, autism symptoms, and lower cognitive development among children.
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