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Summertime! Beaches, barbeques, baseball games – there is an endless list of fun activities associated with this time of year. But as many mental health practitioners know, summer weather can be hard on their patients’ mental health. In fact, there are some unique mental health challenges presented by the summer season.

What exactly are the effects of summer on mental health? How does this impact mental health practices? And how does the coronavirus pandemic factor into these issues? We delve into these questions below.

Summer Heat Affects Mental Health Negatively

Despite all the positive associations with summer in our culture, the truth is that extreme summer heat can take a toll on mental health. One recent systematic review of studies on heat exposure and mental health outcomes, for the time period of 1990-2020, found strong evidence for this correlation. Specifically, the review found that every 1º Celsius rise in temperature was associated with (1) a 2.2% increase in mental health-related deaths (mortality) and (2) a 0.9% increase in mental health-related illnesses (morbidity) (Liu et al., 2021).

Another study has ominous findings for suicide rates and depression due to higher temperatures (Burke et al., 2018). The study found that for every 1º Celsius rise in monthly average temperature, suicide rates rise 0.7% in U.S. counties and 2.1% in Mexican municipalities. In addition, the study authors analyzed over 600 million social media updates and found an increase in depressive language during warmer periods.

The evidence for the negative impact of extreme heat on mental health goes on and on. A Toronto study found that temperatures above 82º Fahrenheit were associated with increased rates of emergency room visits for mental health-related conditions (Wang et al., 2014). Similarly, a 2018 statewide study in California found an increase in mental health-related ER visits on warmer days (Basu et al., 2017). A seven-year study in New York state found a correlation between short-term exposure to extreme heat and increased ER visits for mental disorders (Yoo et al., 2021).

Why the Summertime Gloom?

While there is a clear link between poor mental health and warm weather, less clear is what causes this effect. Why would warmth and sunshine adversely affect a person’s mental state?

Researchers have hypothesized several reasons for this warm-weather effect. For example, warm weather may be associated with lower serotonin levels, lower cognitive levels, and increased insomnia. Prescribed medications may also be a factor, since they can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Another factor may be summer seasonal affective disorder, also known as “reverse SAD.” Those suffering from winter SAD tend to experience fatigue and weight gain. But for the approximate 1% of Americans suffering from reverse SAD, they instead experience decreased appetite and increased agitation. Experts say an excess of bright light can decrease melatonin production, which will negatively impact sleep and mood. The discomfort of high temperatures could also play a role.

Summer in the COVID Era

All these negative seasonal effects would be bad enough on their own, but as every mental health professional knows, the COVID-19 pandemic has itself taken an enormous toll on mental health worldwide. When the negative effects of the pandemic compound on those caused by warm summer weather, many mental health patients are at even greater risk.

In the coronavirus era, our country has seen a large increase in counseling or therapy from mental health professionals. In addition, the number of people reporting they needed counseling or therapy but did not receive it has risen dramatically. The number of people taking prescription drugs to assist with their emotional or mental health has also gone up.

Valant Can Help Your Practice Deal with the Influx of Summer Patients

While summertime can be challenging for both mental health patients and providers, the right EHR technology can help. Valant’s EHR software provides behavioral health practices with the tools they need to meet demand, cut down on manual tasks, and maximize time spent with patients.

To see how the Valant platform can assist your office in treating your patients’ summertime blues, request a demo by clicking the button below.