Summertime sadness: Extreme heat affects mental health
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08-11-15 Category: Depression, Mental Health


Temperature and seasons can directly affect an individual’s mental health. Research indicates that human aggression rises during heat waves. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is most commonly associated with depression during fall and winter, also contributes to depression during summer months for some individuals. With summer in full swing setting record temperatures, specialists recommend that people be aware of the mental health risks associated with extreme heat.

A 2013 meta-analysis conducted by the University of California, Berkley found that increased aggression and acts of violence have been associated with high temperature, less rainfall and drought throughout history. Researchers determined this is applicable to domestic violence and bullying, in addition to conflict between larger groups, such as war and gang violence. These correlations are complex and not yet fully defined, but Brian Lickel, social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst provides an educated theory. He explains, “When people are hot, it makes them cranky. It makes people more prone to anger, it makes people more frustrated, and it make decision making more impulsive. And that can lead to altercations that escalate to more extreme levels of aggression.”

Aside from aggression, summer SAD, also known as reverse SAD, affects approximately 1 percent of the population. The symptoms of summer SAD differ greatly from those of winter SAD, as the latter is associated with fatigue and more traditional symptoms of clinical depression. Summer SAD, rather, is characterized by extreme agitation and sleeplessness. Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, professor of clinical psychiatry at Georgetown University, explains a patient once described the disorder to him by stating, “The sun cut through me like a knife and caused me to feel depressed.” Rosenthal notes the different causes of summer SAD and that “even among people with summer depression, you’re probably dealing with a mixed group with different causes to them. They’re not all cut out of one mold.”

An Australian study conducted in 2008 by the University of Adelaide and South Australian Department of Health found that “episodes of extreme heat pose a salient risk to the health and wellbeing of the mentally ill.”

If you or a loved one is struggling with heat-related mental health issues, or if existing disorders are being exacerbated by extreme heat, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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