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Living With Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and heat related deaths

Posted: Wednesday, April 26th, 2023

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Image: Guenter Albers on Shutterstock

Recent reports in both the mainstream press and the academic literature coming out of Canada and the US have strongly indicated that people with schizophrenia are at an increased risk of death from heat-related illness during heat waves and other periods of excessive hot weather. And, with summer just around the corner, people living with schizophrenia should be aware of this risk.

 

A study published on the Geo Health platform in March this year found that, during  the heat wave in British Columbia, Canada in 2021, people with schizophrenia were at much higher risk of death than at other times of more normal temperatures.  According to the journal, Science, “overall more than 8% of those who died during the heat wave had a history of schizophrenia: up from 2.7% in the same week during a typical year”.

 

Why this should be so is complex:  there are a number of factors.  Schizophrenia can affect the part of the brain that regulates body temperature and some antipsychotic medicines can affect body temperature as well.  In addition, schizophrenia often causes a condition called anosognosia which reduces the person’s awareness of their ill health.  Conditions like diabetes and alcohol use, which often occur alongside schizophrenia, can also contribute to the risk from heat-related illness and social isolation and homelessness can make it more difficult for people with heat -related illness to get timely help.

 

Sarah Henderson, one of the authors of the study, told the journal Science, “When we are talking about risk factors for extreme hot weather, schizophrenia needs to be near the top of the list”.

 

Greater awareness of this risk is needed, particularly by Community Mental Health Teams and especially Community Psychiatric Nurses who can check on patients with schizophrenia during periods of excessive hot weather and ensure that they have taken precautions.  Carers and relatives can also play a part and should know how to cope with hot weather and what to do in case of heat-related illness.  Sufferers of schizophrenia themselves should also be more aware of this risk and look at how they can take some simple precautions when the weather is too hot.

 

There is good advice on the Gov.UK website on how to cope with periods of extreme hot weather and the NHS and Red Cross websites cover what to do in case of a heat-related illness.

 

 

References

Lee M. et al, 2023, Chronic Diseases Associated With Mortality in British Columbia, Canada During the 2021 Western North America Extreme Heat Event, published in Geo Health March 2023.

Cornwall W, 2023, Schizophrenia pinpointed as a key factor in heat deaths, published in Science 17/03/2023.

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