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‘I’m a Climate Psychologist, and This Is What Happens When You’re Too Hot for Too Long’

Kara Jillian Brown  7/23/2020

We’ve all had days where the heat makes us a little cranky. It’s too hot to move and all you want to do is hop in a cold shower. But the impacts of heat can go much deeper than just your mood. Susan Clayton, PhD, a professor of psychology and environmental studies and psychology department chair at the College of Wooster, explains that heat can have a huge impact on your mental health.

“There are significant increases in mental health problems associated with high temperatures and that includes psychiatric hospitalizations and suicide levels—really serious, serious increases,” says Dr. Clayton. “And there’s a lot of evidence that people’s mood is not as good. Their ratings of happiness are lower. If you ask them about things designed to get sort of general well-being, those ratings are lower as in warmer temperatures.”

Dr. Clayton says science hasn’t fully figured out the strong relationship between heat and mental health.

“Some of the possible mechanisms are that we know that that heat can decrease social interactions,” says Dr. Clayton. “People are not as nice to each other, they tend to be more aggressive. So of course that might have an impact on your mental health if people are not being as nice to you.” Additionally, the physical impacts of heat like dehydration, confusion, and heat exhaustion can impact your mental health.

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