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New study reveals concerning factor contributing to some of the most common mental health issues

One study also suggests that heat may impact serotonin.

Urban heat island and mental health issues

Photo Credit: iStock

Temperatures are rising across the globe, but the effect is stronger in some locations than others. 

Urban "heat islands" — areas packed with buildings, concrete, and pavement, all of which absorb and hold heat from the sun really well — can be 15 to 20 degrees hotter than neighboring regions with more greenery. 

According to the Psychiatric Times, this can have a devastating effect on mental health and even lead to violence.

What's happening?

The Psychiatric Times cited studies that identified several ways extreme heat impacts mental health. Aside from physical health issues that come up during heat waves, like heat stroke, higher temperatures can also lead to greater rates of violence, suicide, and insomnia, as well as general drops in mood and mental ability.

The Psychiatric Times points out that more and more people are being exposed to extreme temperatures as the world continues to overheat and that these exposures can be deadly. It also notes that these conditions are most dangerous for people with preexisting mental and physical health conditions.

Why does the heat matter so much?

According to the Psychiatric Times, there are multiple possible physical reasons that high temperatures affect human behavior. For example, the human body prepares for sleep by cooling down, and if people can't cool down, they have trouble sleeping. Lack of sleep is connected to all kinds of negative effects on health and mood.

One study also suggests that heat may impact serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps regulate mood.

Regardless of how it works, there is a clear connection between heat and mental health. Since heat islands get so much hotter than surrounding areas, people living in urban areas without relief from high temperatures are the most affected.

What's being done to cool off?

The best way to prevent negative effects during a heat wave is air conditioning, according to the Psychiatric Times. Many organizations and social services have come together to create centers where people can come to cool off, as well as spread information on how to beat the heat.

In the long run, the solution is to address the Earth's rising temperature by supporting policy changes that are designed to cool down the world, such as plastic bans, switching to abundant clean energy sources, like solar, and trying to minimize waste in their homes.

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