Increasing temperature impacts mental health, suicides

Silhouette of sad depressed Asian man lost hope and cry, sit on building rooftop at sunset, dark mood tone. Concept of major depressive disorder, friend zone, unemployment, stress emotion or paranoid

Psychologist and therapists agree that there could be any number of reasons behind suicides and usually, the causal factors are convoluted and sometimes interlinked, making it challenging to unlock the wide range of potential risk factors.

Understanding these factors is becoming more pressing than ever, as suicide numbers keep climbing. The taking of one’s own life has been identified as one of the leading causes of death globally.

With climate crisis increasingly taking center stage in public discourse, the role of climate in psychological well-being is a new angle that researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and California Polytechnic State University in the United States are pursuing.

For their study, the researchers collected and analyzed vast amounts of data from the US on mental health diagnoses from 2005 to 2016, as well as information on suicides from 1960 to 2016, and self-reported mental health statuses by more than four million people in the US.

The researchers also collated information about other factors that might influence any relationship between temperature and mental health, including access to air conditioning, availability of mental health services, insurance coverage, accessibility of substance abuse treatment, and income levels.

Overall, the authors concluded that cooler temperatures decrease the level of adverse mental health outcomes and that warmer temperatures increase negative health outcomes. They provide further detail:

Increasing average monthly temperature by one degree leads to a 0.48 percent increase in mental health visits and a 0.35 percent increase in suicides. The study also showed that these estimates remain stable over time — in other words, people do not seem to adapt to changes in temperature very quickly. In addition, the estimates were the same irrespective of the levels of air conditioning adoption and socioeconomic status.

The relationship also remained significant both in areas with higher average temperatures and in regions with lower average temperatures. In other words, hot temperatures influenced mental health, even in populations accustomed to the heat.

For many years, scientists have studied how climate affects mental well-being. However, it is often difficult to link temperature directly to health outcomes. As an example, a 2017 study that focused on India found that suicide rates there peak in tandem with increasing temperatures.

Another study linked increasing temperatures and poor mental health outcomes due to sleep disturbances from the higher temperatures.

The current study only focused on temperature and the researchers hope that future work might probe other environmental factors that could influence mental health outcomes.