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Climate change can be deadly to people with chronic issues

Climate change is increasingly a mental health issue. More functional people experience it as a nagging threat of overwhelm. Those with chronic illnesses experience it as an existential threat. The Washington Post recently published an extensive article about people with schizophrenia, focusing on the high temperatures in Phoenix. They are especially vulnerable. People are dying.

Here’s the link. Here’s an excerpt:

“When temperatures surge, the effects of schizophrenia can be profound.

During the record-breaking heat wave in British Columbia in Canada in 2021, for example, researchers found that an astonishing 8 percent of the people who died in the heat had been diagnosed with schizophrenia — rendering it more dangerous, when combined with heat, than any other condition studied. Michael Lee, an epidemiologist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and one of the study’s authors, said people with chronic kidney disease were 36 percent more likely to die during the heat wave than in normal conditions. In people with schizophrenia, it was over 200 percent.

People with schizophrenia are more likely to be unhoused or economically vulnerable — but that’s not the only reason they are at greater risk. Drugs prescribed for schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses dehydrate patients and make it harder for their bodies to manage high temperatures. There is also evidence that these patients have inherent difficulty dealing with temperature changes. ‘People with schizophrenia have more difficulty thermoregulating,’ said Joshua Wortzel, a psychiatrist at Brown University….

Their deaths show the struggle that countries like the United States face when grappling with extreme heat. In poorer countries, the battle against heat is largely about resources: access to air conditioning and electricity cheap enough to run it. But in richer countries, it’s about protecting those who can’t or won’t have access to shelter: outdoor workers, unhoused people, drug users, and those with mental illness….

Nonprofits and medical groups struggle to help those in need. Tara Ankrah, a registered nurse at a Phoenix nonprofit called Circle the City, spends her days delivering medications, water, and care to the thousands of people living on the city’s streets — many of whom have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or another serious mental illness. The heat, she says, is a ‘recipe for disaster’ for those patients — and it’s getting worse. ‘It feels more and more hopeless every year,’ she said. ‘More and more heat. More and more unbearable.’”

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