There’s no doubt that weather affects our mental health as anyone’s mood can be affected by the weather. I live in Toledo, and many people complain about our weather. I think the weather is the best part of living here. I’ve always been fascinated with weather and I love living in an area that has four distinct seasons. I thought this article on the effects of weather on mental health would be timely considering April is the start of Ohio’s tornado season.
Summer and Warm Weather Effects on Mental Health
Summer weather affects mental health by wearing down your body. The summer sun feels amazing after a long winter and rainy spring, but sunlight can have some surprising effects on the body. Spending time out in the sun can make you feel tired. According to sleep.org1, this could be a sign of dehydration or that your body is working overtime to control its temperature. Remember to avoid extended hours in the sun and drink plenty of water.
Heat alone can have an effect on your body as well. Stated in How Weather can Effect Mental Health2, extended periods in the heat can cause sleeplessness, lethargy, lack of appetite, and dehydration, all of which can lead to aggressive behaviors and anxiety. Warmer weather can also attribute to higher crime and suicide rates. These rates could be a huge concern if you factor in climate change, where in some areas hotter weather will become the norm warns research from Waseda University in Japan3.
Warm weather and sunlight can also be dangerous for those using psychotropic medications (Heat Can Affect Psychiatric Patients). According to medicinetnet.com4, the combination of certain medications and sunlight can cause photosensitivity, an inflammation of the skin similar to sunburn. These medications also make people at higher risk of heatstroke and heat-related illnesses. To protect yourself, limit your time in direct sunlight, stay hydrated, and use sunscreen.
How Winter and Cold Weather Effects Mental Health
Many people think of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) when discussing the winter weather and mental health, but SAD is actually a somewhat uncommon condition according to The Surprising Ways The Weather Affects Mental Health5. It occurs more in colder climates with dark winters, and sufferers usually feel better when exposed to light, especially in the morning.
In the winter there is less crime and lower suicide rates, but many people feel tired and isolated from staying indoors (Winter Survival Tips for Keeping Your Spirits Up).
The same Huffington Post article states many people believe that extreme cold weather can bring out empathy, such as more donations to homeless shelters or becoming more understanding and respectful for those who work outdoors.
Climate Change and Extreme Weather Effects on Mental Health
We have had some pretty devastating weather in the past few years, and many scientists agree that with the temperature of the earth warming, storms are only going to get worse.
Those in high-risk areas such as coastal cities or Tornado Alley are susceptible to mental and physical stress due to a heightened state of alert, and the aftermath of a storm can cause depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, substance abuse, violence, and suicide rates to spike. SAMHSA.gov6 provides lots of information on severe weather and mental health.
Rebuilding after a storm can be exhausting, and the stress and sleeplessness could lead to the misuse of drugs and alcohol. This may be to lessen stress or help with sleep.
Storms also disrupt normal, everyday routines that can be crucial to stability. They can also affect the availability of counseling, providers and clinics, and access to pharmacies.
The government agency the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), responds to extreme weather events with the Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC), and the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training (CCP) program. Both of these programs provide training and mental health services in the event of a disaster. The DTAC also provides training to first responders on self-care, compassion fatigue, and how to prevent burnout.
Probably the only positive thing that comes out of these disasters is the profound sense of community during the recovery and rebuilding process as stated in the Huffington Post article previously mentioned. According to an Associated Press study, 77 percent of Superstorm Sandy survivors reported that the experience brought out the best among their neighbors.
Weather can have a significant impact on our mental health in many surprising ways. From sunlight dictating tiredness to extreme weather bringing about empathy, we really are at Mother Nature’s mercy.
- National Sleep Foundation. Three Reasons That the Sun Makes You Tired. Accessed April 3, 2018.
- Act for Libraries. How Weather Can Effect Mental Health. Accessed April 3, 2018.
- Takahashi, Ryo. Climate, crime, and suicide: Empirical evidence from Japan. February 13, 2017.
- Cunha, John P DO FACOEP. Sun-Sensitive Drugs (Photosensitivity to Drugs). MedicineNet.com. Accessed April 3, 2018.
- Gregoire, Carolyn. The Surprising Ways The Weather Affects Your Health and Well-Being. Huffington Post. December 6, 2017.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Effects of Severe Weather on Behavioral Health. January 25, 2017.