Extreme Heat Connected to Mental Health Emergency Hospital Visits, Study Finds

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A recent study from Jama Psychiatry suggests a correlation between extreme heat episodes and emergency room visits due to mental health crises, potentially aiding in the argument that climate change affects mental health.

Could the heat affect your mental health? It's possible, as a recent study found that emergency hospital visits for mental health-related conditions are higher on days where there is extreme heat.

High temperatures are known to cause acute physical illnesses, such as nausea or heatstroke, but the Jama Psychiatry study shows that the impact exceeds past physical repercussions. 

This medical data, which was collected from over 2 million U.S. adults, may aid in the pre-existing argument that climate change has a negative effect on mental health conditions, officials said. Successfully making that case could aid in the push for increased preventative measures toward climate change.

Researchers utilized a medical information database with data collected between 2010 and 2019 from people over the age of 18 across 2,775 counties where either commercial or Medicare Advantage health insurance was used.

Daily temperature information for each of the counties between May and September came from a database called PRISM, and “​extreme heat days” were classified as days where the highest temperature was higher than 95% of the other days during that bracket of time.

Most specifically, these episodes of extreme heat were connected to the rates of emergency department visits for mental health-related conditions such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, stress-related disorders, self-harm and substance use disorders. The data did not align with visits for personality or behavioral disorders.

While the researchers acknowledge that the study found a correlation, that does not indicate a causation. 

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