Extreme heat tips for people with a mental illness
“When the body overheats, you can experience trouble thinking clearly, seeing or hearing things that aren’t real, trouble walking, seizures or passing out,” says Dr. Jacqueline Sze, Psychiatrist at The Scarborough Hospital. “Other physical symptoms include faster breathing, a faster heart rate, skin redness, vomiting or diarrhea, headaches or muscle weakness.”
She adds that people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are particularly at risk because often these individuals do not have access to housing or facilities with air conditioning.
Also, some of their medications, such as anticholinergic agents, lithium and tricyclic antidepressants can interfere with their body’s ability to regulate itself, including their natural cooling mechanisms, and can lead to heat stroke. Other risk factors include intense activity during high temperature and humidity, not being used to hot climates, poor physical fitness, obesity and dehydration.
Heat stroke can occur when our bodies get too hot. It is a medial emergency and can be fatal if not treated quickly.
Dr. Sze suggests some tips for people with a mental illness and their loved ones to help beat the heat.
- Call your local public health department for a list of relief centres or find a place that has air conditioning such as a mall or a library, and spend a few hours there every day.
- Avoid drinks with large amounts of caffeine, alcohol or sugar, which can cause a loss of body fluid. Stick with water, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to get hydrated.
- Take a cool shower or bath, or visit a public pool.
- Wear loose, light-coloured clothing.
- Talk to your physician or social worker about how your medication may or may not increase the risk of heat stroke.
- Exercise early in the day, before it is too hot.
- Avoid staying in a hot car
Individuals with a mental illness often have a higher incidence of mortality during a heatwave, and they are also less likely to ask for help. Please remember to check on loved ones with a mental illness during periods of extreme heat to ensure they are safe.