Policy and infrastructure changes are urgently needed to protect our mental health from the impact of high temperatures.

Extreme heat days are an inevitable consequence of a warming world, and things are not cooling down. Globally, 2023 was the hottest year on record, and the Met Office—the United Kingdom’s national weather service—predicts that 2024 may be worse. It could even be the first year on record to surpass 1.5°C of warming above the preindustrial era.

The physical consequences of heat, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, are well-known. But heat has psychological consequences as well—consequences ranging from irritability to impulsivity to trouble concentrating. The impacts can put already-vulnerable people in crisis during heat waves but may also lead to general mental health impacts and increased friction within society.

“The way we are headed right now, things are only going to get worse,” said Kim Meidenbauer, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University who studies the effect of heat stress and other environmental factors on cognition and emotion. “If we don’t even understand the scope of the effect heat is having on us, that bodes poorly for our ability to protect people from the negative psychological consequences.”

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Monitor on Psychology