A new study by the Boston University’s School of Public Health linked global warming to rising mental health emergencies after analyzing medical health records across the US. The study found an 8 percent rise in the rate of emergency mental health hospital visits during days of extreme heat.
Hospital visits for conditions such as anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, schizophrenia and stress amongst others increased during that period. The only cases when visits did not increase were in the case of personality and behavioral disorders but scientists warned that the rarity of these disorders and their smaller sample size presented a limiting factor in the analysis.
“This study establishes at an unprecedented scale that days of extreme heat can also impact people’s mental health in a substantial way. And this is not just for a niche, vulnerable population… everybody is at risk,” said Gregory Wellenius, Professor, Boston University, and senior author of the study to The Guardian.
The findings were further supported by the fact that the country’s North-West region saw the largest increases in doctor visits due to mental health emergencies. The 12-percent increase is attributed to the fact that those living in colder climates are less prepared, physically and mentally, for the rises in temperatures observed as a result of climate change.
Furthermore, the study warns that the 8 percent rise in visits does not reflect the whole picture as the most vulnerable populations were likely to not be included in the study due to their inability to access professional help in the case of an emergency. But even with the reported increase, health systems are tasked with a costly burden in having to treat many more patients due to temperature increases, Wellenius explained.
For years now, the issue of climate change has begun to include humanitarian aspects in order for society and global leaders to understand the scope of its impact. During Mexico Health Summit 2022, Mexico’s UK Ambassador Jon Benjamin explained that global warming directly impacts public health by limiting water quality and food supply, affecting a region’s most vulnerable populations and increasing health inequalities as has been the case in Mexican areas where dengue fever has become endemic. As such, the Ambassador praised the COP26 Health Program, which was created to support UN countries to fight climate change. “It is essential for health systems to transform themselves to understand their vulnerabilities and to create the capacity to adapt to possible threats, all while being sustainable,” said Benjamin.