Can Rising Temperatures Impact Mental Health? | Connecting Point | Dec. 3, 2019

Can Rising Temperatures Impact Mental Health? | Connecting Point | Dec. 3, 2019


IS HEAT A FACTOR IN MENTAL
HEALTH? THAT’S A QUESTION THAT
RESEARCHERS, INCLUDING SOME AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS
AMHERST, SET OUT TO ANSWER. AND AMONG THE ANSWERS THEY
FOUND, RISING TEMPERATURES HAVE MEANT MORE SUICIDES AND MENTAL
HEALTH-RELATED ER VISITS. FOR THE DETAILS, I SPOKE WITH
UMASS PROFESSOR JAMIE MULLINS, THE STUDY’S CO-AUTHOR.>>WHEN WE CAME TO START WORKING
ON THIS, IT WAS KIND OF FROM TWO DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES. WE’RE INTERESTED IN THINKING
ABOUT TRENDS GOING FORWARD SO MY CO-AUTHOR AND I WERE THINKING
BOTH ABOUT, WELL, THINGS ARE GETTING WARMER AS WE’RE LOOKING
INTO THE FUTURE AND ALSO IF YOU LOOK AT THE MENTAL HEALTH DATA,
WHAT WE SEE IS THAT NEGATIVE MENTAL HEALTH OUTCOMES WE ARE
INTERESTED IN STUDYING ALSO SEEM TO BE TRENDED UPWARDS. SO IN THE UNITED STATES OVER THE
PAST 20 YEARS WE HAVE SEEN SUICIDE RATES CLIMBING SLOWLY
AND IT’S A BIG PROBLEM AS WELL. WHEN WE THINK ABOUT ISSUES THAT
PEOPLE STRUGGLE WITH, WITH MENTAL HEALTH. SO ABOUT 4% OF ADULTS IN THE
UNITED STATES IN ANY GIVEN YEAR REPORT HAVING SERIOUS THOUGHTS
OF SUICIDE AND SO THIS IS SOMETHING WE CARE A LOT ABOUT. WE THINK IT IS AN IMPORTANT
ISSUE AND WE’RE INTERESTED TO SEE HOW THE ENVIRONMENT MIGHT
PLAY INTO THESE ISSUES AS WELL AS WHAT THE IMPLICATIONS GOING
FORWARD MIGHT BE AS WE EXPECT THINGS TO GET WARMER AND WARMER
UNDER CLIMATE CHANGE.>>SO, AS I UNDERSTAND IT, M SO
OF THE RESEARCH SHOWED INCREASING TEMPERATURES RESULTED
IN MORE SUICIDE AND MENTAL HEALTH-RELATED E.R. VISITS. BUT WHY? WHAT IS THE CONNECTION THERE?>>WELL, SO WE WANTED TO GET AT
NOT JUST ONE SPECIFIC NEGATIVE MENTAL HEALTH OUTCOME. SO WE WANTED TO LOOK AT KIND OF
WHAT WE CALL THE SPECTRUM IN THE PAPER. WE DO LOOK AT SUICIDE RATES. AS YOU SAID, WE FIND HIGHER
SUICIDE RATES ARE ASSOCIATED WITH HIGHER TEMPERATURES,
OUTDOOR TEMPERATURES AND WE FIND THE SAME THING AMONG EMERGENCY
ROOM VISITS FOR REASONS RELATED TO MENTAL HEALTH. AND THEN FINALLY, WE LOOK AT A
THIRD OUTCOME, WHICH IS PEOPLE’S SELF-REPORTED, KIND OF, HOW HAVE
YOU BEEN WITH REGARD TO YOUR MENTAL HEALTH OVER THE PAST
MONTH? AND SO THESE ARE THREE DIFFERENT
MEASURES WE THINK KIND OF CHARACTERIZE DIFFERENT LEVELS OF
ACUITY OF NEGATIVE MENTAL HEALTH. AND WE FIND ACROSS THESE LEVELS
THE SAME ASSOCIATION, WHICH IS AS TEMPERATURES WARM, WE SEE
HIGHER RATES OF THESE NEGATIVE MEASURES OF MENTAL HEALTH.>>YOU WERE LOOKING AT A
SPECIFIC AREA OF THE COUNTRY, RIGHT, YOU WERE WORKING WITH A
CAL TECH RESEARCHER?>>MY CO-AUTHOR IS AT CAL POLY,
SAN LUIS OBISPO. THE ER DATA IS FROM CALIFORNIA
IN THE LATE OTS THROUGH 2018 OR SO AND THE SURVEY DATA IS FROM
THE 1990s THROUGH PRESENT DAY, BUT DOES COVER THE ENTIRE UNITED
STATES.>>BUT THE CALIFORNIA E.R.
VISITS, WERE YOU FOCUSING THERE BECAUSE YOU COULD LOOK AT MORE
EXTREME TEMPERATURES? OR WHY FOCUS ON CALIFORNIA?>>SO THE SIMPLE REASON IS THAT
THE DATA IS AVAILABLE IN CALIFORNIA, BUT ADDITIONALLY,
CALIFORNIA REPRESENTS A VERY LARGE POPULATION WITH A VERY
DIVERSE SET OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS, SO THAT PROVIDES THE
OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK AT THESE SORTS OF IMPACTS ACROSS A RANGE
OF CONDITIONS.>>AND DID YOU HAVE THE
OPPORTUNITY OR DID THE DATA REPORT YOU COULD LOOK AT AGE OR
SOCIOECONOMIC BACKGROUND OR SOME OTHER FACTORS CHANGED WHO WOULD
BE MORE LIKELY TO REPORT THESE NEGATIVE MENTAL HEALTH
HAPPENINGS DURING RISE IN TEMPERATURE?>>YEAH. SO WE ARE ABLE TO DO THAT WITH
TWO OF THE DATA SETS. BOTH WITH THE E.R. DATA AND
SURVEY DATA. WE FIND THESE RESULTS ARE FAIRLY
CONSISTENT ACROSS DEMOGRAPHIC GROUPS, GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS,
WHAT WE THINK OF AS BASELINE OR NORMAL CLIMATE CONDITIONS AS
WELL AS A NUMBER OF OTHER FACTORS WE MAY HAVE THOUGHT
WOULD IMPACT PEOPLE’S MENTAL WELL BEING GENERALLY OR THE
EXTENT TO WHICH THEY ARE EXPOSED TO HIGH TEMPERATURES IN THE
OUTDOORS.>>SO DOES THAT SAY THERE IS
REALLY NO HOPE FOR THE HUMAN RACE HERE IN THIS? AIR CONDITIONING CAN’T HELP, YOU
KNOW, BEING AWARE, THAT, OKAY, IT IS GOING TO BE WARMER. MAYBE I NEED TO BE TAKING MORE
SELF-CARE STEPS, THINGS LIKE THAT?>>SO WE DO FIND VERY EXPLICITLY
HIGHER RATES OF AIR CONDITIONING PENETRATION DO NOT MODERATE THIS
EFFECT. WE FIND HIGHER TEMPERATURES LEAD
TO HIGHER RATES OF SUICIDE. E.R. VISITS FOR MENTAL HEALTH
ISSUES, AND THESE KIND OF SELF-REPORTED I’M NOT FEELING AS
WELL WITH REGARD TO MY MENTAL HEALTH. AND PLACES THAT HAVE HIGHER AIR
CONDITIONING PENETRATION BOTH AT A GIVEN TIME AND AS AIR
CONDITIONING PENETRATION RATES INCREASE OVER TIME DOESN’T —
THOSE RATES DON’T MODERATE THIS EFFECT. SO, BASICALLY, THE EFFECTS ARE
THE SAME MAGNITUDE, THE SAME SIZE.>>DO YOU HAVE ANY SENSE OF WHY? AIR CONDITIONING COOLS YOU DOWN,
DOES HELP YOU FEEL BETTER, BUT NOT HELPING WITH THE MENTAL
HEALTH PIECE?>>YEAH. THERE IS WONDERFUL RESEARCH OUT
THERE LOOKING AT PHYSICAL HEALTH AND MORTALITY, SO DEATHS IN
PARTICULAR AND AIR CONDITIONING PENETRATION. SO DEATHS RELATED TO HIGH
TEMPERATURES. THEY DO FIND THAT HIGHER
AVAILABILITY OF AIR CONDITIONING REDUCES THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF
HIGH TEMPERATURE ON PHYSICAL HEALTH. SO THAT IS ACTUALLY WHAT WE
EXPECTED TO FIND HERE. SO IT WAS SOMEWHAT SURPRISING WE
DON’T FIND THAT EFFECT AT ALL. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF THEORIES,
BUT I DON’T HAVE STRONG EVIDENCE FOR ANY OF THEM. WE DO VERY CONVINCINGLY HIGHER
RATES OF AIR CONDITIONING DON’T MODERATE THIS EFFECT.>>IS THERE ONE TO YOU THAT
COULD BE PLAUSIBLE?>>NO. NOTHING JUMPS TO MIND. IT COULD BE IT IS NOT ACTUALLY
THE PHYSICAL RESPONSE OF THE BODY THAT IS DRIVING THIS. IT IS KIND OF JUST AN
UNDERSTANDING OF I’M UNCOMFORTABLE AND THAT CAN
HAPPEN IF YOU HAVE TO GO OUT IN THE HEAT FOR A WHILE OR
WHETHER –>>SO AS WE MOVE FORWARD,
OBVIOUSLY, CLIMATE CHANGE IS SOMETHING WE ARE TALKING ABOUT
QUITE A BIT AT THE GOVERNMENT LEVEL, ACTIVISM LEVEL. IF PEOPLE WERE TO — IF CLIMATE
CHANGE WERE A PROBLEM THAT WERE SOLVABLE, THIS OTHER FACTOR YOU
FOUND THROUGH YOUR RESEARCH COULD BE CHANGED?>>SO I THINK WHAT OUR RESEARCH
SHOWS IS WE NEED TO BE AWARE OF THE MENTAL HEALTH IMPLICATIONS
OF A WARMING CLIMATE. AND THAT THIS IS SOMETHING THAT
SHOULD BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION WHEN WE ARE
THINKING ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS FOR AN AREA BECOMING WARMER OR A
COUNTRY FACING HIGHER INCIDENCES OF EXTREME HEAT. ADDITIONALLY, I THINK THIS
RESEARCH IS USEFUL FOR KIND OF PLANNING THE PROVISION OF MENTAL
HEALTH SERVICES. SO, SOME OF WHAT OUR RESULTS
SHOW IS PEOPLE GO TO THE E.R. MORE WHEN IT IS HOT OUTSIDE. WE DON’T SHOW THAT WHATEVER
SERVICES THEY ARE RECEIVING THERE AREN’T EFFECTIVE IN
HELPING THEM. SO THAT, AT LEAST, SHOWS THAT
PEOPLE ON SOME MARGINS ARE WILLING TO SEEK OUT MENTAL
HEALTH SERVICES AT HIGHER RATES WHEN TEMPERATURES ARE HIGHER. AND SO THIS IS SOMETHING THAT IS
IMPORTANT TO THINK ABOUT WHEN WE ARE PLANNING TO PROVIDE OR FOR
THE PROVISION OF MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES.>>YOU’RE A RESEARCH ECONOMIST
AT UMASS.>>UH-HUH.>>PEOPLE MIGHT HEAR THAT TITLE
AND THINK HOW DO THESE TWO AREAS LINE UP? MENTAL HEALTH, THE ENVIRONMENT
AND RESEARCH ECONOMY.>>YEAH. IT IS A WONDERFUL QUESTION I GET
A LOT. SO, BASICALLY, I’M APPLYING
STATISTICAL AND RESEARCH TECHNIQUES THAT ARE DEVELOPED IN
ECONOMICS, WHICH IS HOW I WAS TRAINED TO QUESTIONS THAT ARE
BROADER. SO I’M REALLY INTERESTED IN
HEALTH AND OTHER OUTCOMES THAT ARE RELATED TO HUMAN WELL BEING. IT IS NOT THAT DIFFERENT OF
THINKING OF THINGS IN TERMS OF DOLLARS AND CENTS IF OUR GOAL IS
TO THINK ABOUT HOW PEOPLE ARE DOING IN A MORE GENERAL SENSE,
NOT JUST HOW MUCH THEY ARE EARNING OR HOW MUCH THEY ARE
SAVING, BUT ALSO KIND OF HOW THEY ARE. SO MY RESEARCH TENDS TO BE
FOCUSED MORE ON THESE OUTCOMES THAT ARE RELATED TO HEALTH,
RELATED TO KIND OF NON-MONETARY MEASURES.>>THE RESEARCH WAS PUBLISHED IN
THE “JOURNAL OF HEALTH ECONOMICS”
>>YEAH.>>HOW DO YOU HOPE YOUR FINDINGS
WILL BE USED OR APPLIED?>>I HOPE WHEN PEOPLE ARE
TALKING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE IMPLICATIONS OF CLIMATE
CHANGE BOTH KIND OF LOCAL AND BROADER SCALES, THAT THE IMPACTS
ON MENTAL HEALTH WILL ENTER THE DISCUSSION. THERE’S LOTS OF DISCUSSION ABOUT
THE HEALTH EFFECTS, THE LIKELY IMPACTS OF FLOODING AND EXTREME
STORMS. I THINK THIS RESEARCH PROVIDES
EVIDENCE THERE ARE OTHER IMPORTANT DIMENSIONS WE NEED TO
BE THINKING ABOUT WHEN WE ARE BOTH KIND OF ENVISIONING A
FUTURE WORLD THAT IS WARMER OR THAT IS HOTTER AND WHEN WE ARE
TRYING TO PLAN FOR THAT.

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