Portland, like other cities, can be “crazy bad” when the temperature spikes. I venture to say, brain injury survivors are near the top of the list. Look at English expressions: “hot under the collar”, “blood boils,” and “let off steam,” to name a few. Scientists are now beginning to understand the complexities of why that happens.
Overall, high temperatures affect the brain.
Shabab Wahid, a mental health expert at Georgetown University’s Department of Global Health says, “It’s easy to understand how going through a traumatic experience like a hurricane can impact mental health.” Wahid recently published a study showing that even a single degree increase in temperature above the norm contributes to a higher probability of experiencing depression and anxiety.
“There is a growing body of scientific literature that is identifying this link between climate-related factors and adverse mental health outcomes. And every indication is that as the climate change continues to worsen, these links will gain in strength,” says Wahid.
Another study in 2018 by Stanford economist Marshall Burke projects that a 1.8°F (1°C) increase will be enough to wipe out the combined efforts of suicide-prevention programs and gun-control policies in the US alone.
There’s more. Robin Cooper, an associate clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco and the president of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, said, “We have to start thinking about climate change as a mental health crisis. If we ignore climate change as a public health threat, we are abdicating our role as healthcare providers.”
It is understood that heat impacts brain function, though the exact total reasons are still a mystery. Scientists have indicated a plethora of combined psychological, social, and biological factors ranging from disrupted sleep to the heat-impaired function of neurotransmitters and hormones.
But something as simple as keeping people hydrated could keep more people alive? The trick is you have to keep hydrated before the temperature spikes. Waiting to hydrate after the spike, for many people, is too late.