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Climate change and mental health

8th May, 2024 Environment

Climate change and mental health

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  • The study in British Columbia highlighted that individuals with mental health conditions, particularly schizophrenia, faced a higher risk of heat-related deaths during an extreme heat event in 2021 compared to those with kidney and heart diseases.

Research details:

  • During the eight-day extreme heat event in 2021, the province of British Columbia experienced temperatures as high as 40 degrees C when the average temperatures have been around 20 degrees C. The region recorded around 740 excess deaths during this heat wave.
  • To understand who was affected the most during this event, the researchers compared 1,614 deaths recorded over a month in 2021 with 6,524 deaths recorded in the same time period nine years ago.
  • They analysed the data based on 26 medical conditions, including heart disease, schizophrenia, chronic kidney disease, dementia, depression, Parkinson's disease, and osteoporosis.
  • They reported that 8% of the people surveyed in 2021 were previously diagnosed with schizophrenia as opposed to 2.7% of the people surveyed nine years ago. This was a 200% increase from a summer in which heat waves weren't recorded.
  • A closer look at the data revealed that of the 280 people whose deaths were confirmed to be related to heat, 37 people had schizophrenia.
  • This led the to conclusion that while people with schizophrenia were found to be at greater risk of heat-related distress than those with kidney and heart diseases, the latter weren't immune: they were at risk as well, just less so.

Impact on hypothalamus:

  • Individuals with schizophrenia were found to be more vulnerable to heat-related distress, potentially due to dysfunction of the hypothalamus in the brain.
  • The main function of the hypothalamus is to maintain the homeostasis of the body, i.e. to keep the body in a stable condition that ensures it can carry out its normal function. This means it controls the body's temperature, heart rate, hunger, thirst, mood, libido, sleep, and the regulation of hormones.
  • Antipsychotic medications prescribed to individuals with schizophrenia may also contribute to heat-related complications by affecting the hypothalamus and raising body temperature.
  • The study highlights marginalization, lower economic status, and a propensity for loneliness are risk factors for people with schizophrenia, and the same factors heat-related illnesses.

Way ahead:

  • Risk Mitigation Strategies:
    • Scientists emphasize the importance of providing extra protection and support to individuals with schizophrenia during heat waves.
    • While discontinuing antipsychotic medications is not recommended, interventions such as counseling and addressing social isolation can help mitigate heat-related risks.
  • Community Awareness and Support:
    • Community organizations and caregivers play a crucial role in educating individuals with schizophrenia and their families about the increased risk of heat-related illness.
    • Awareness campaigns and emergency cooling measures can help ensure the safety of vulnerable populations during heatwaves.
  • Climate Change Implications:
    • Addressing climate change and its effects on public health requires multidisciplinary approaches and community interventions.


  • Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder. While there is no cure for schizophrenia, research is leading to innovative and safer treatments
  • Individuals with schizophrenia often experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, and may have difficulty recognizing illness (anosognosia).
  • Comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension, coupled with socioeconomic factors and social isolation, further exacerbate their vulnerability to heat-related illnesses.




Q. "Examine the broader societal and environmental factors contributing to the heightened risk of heat-related distress among individuals with mental health conditions, and propose strategies for mitigating these risks in the future."( 250 words)