A new study conducted in China sheds light on the consequences of extreme weather-related temperatures. Researchers discovered that individuals experiencing more extremely hot or cold days were more likely to report depressive symptoms. As climate change has exposed more individuals to extreme temperatures, this research can help communities and clinicians recognize potential environmental triggers for depression.
The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Depression can be caused by a range of factors, including biological, genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. Temperature is one such environmental factor linked to depression, with both high and cold temperatures having immediate effects. However, previous studies have shown inconsistent results regarding the long-term effects of temperature on depression.
Some indicate a higher risk of depression with higher annual average temperatures, while others found no significant connection. Given the potential impact of climate change, it is crucial to explore the impact of extreme temperature events on mental health.
This research examines the chronic impact of temperature on depressive symptoms in middle-aged and elderly individuals using the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study. The study also aims to analyze the effect of yearly fluctuations in extreme temperature events on depressive symptoms.
The researchers examined data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), a comprehensive national survey that focuses on Chinese adults above the age of 45. The survey was conducted in four waves, which included started in 2011-2012 baseline. The final analysis sample consisted of 5,600 individuals who did not exhibit depressive symptoms at the baseline and provided complete data for all study variables in all four waves.
To measure depressive symptoms, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD-10) was utilized, which is a brief 10-item questionnaire. The study sought to determine the exposure to temperature using meteorological data for the selected cities from 2011-2018. The study created extreme temperature indices for each city using the daily maximum and minimum ambient temperatures between 2010-2018.
Additionally, the researchers examined demographic information, including age, gender, marital status, and socioeconomic status covariates such as education level, urbanicity of residence, and per capita household income, all of which were extracted from CHARLS.
The data provided evidence that high and low temperatures increase the likelihood of depressive symptoms, and extreme hot and cold temperatures were found to be significantly associated with depressive symptoms. In addition, the findings suggest that individuals residing in southern China may be more susceptible to developing depressive symptoms due to low temperatures.
Additionally, the elderly are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms due to extreme cold. Middle-aged individuals, rural residents, and those with low household incomes are more likely to develop depressive symptoms due to extreme heat exposure
Exposure to extreme heat or cold conditions can impact autonomic function, leading to prolonged imbalances that can trigger chronic low-level inflammation, which may cause depression. Humidity may also contribute to this relationship by impairing the body’s ability to regulate temperature, which can worsen the effects of extreme heat on the mental health of susceptible individuals.
Moreover, high nighttime temperatures can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythms, causing excessive Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis activity and leading to further mental health issues.
The research highlights the need to recognize susceptible groups and make efforts to implement extreme temperature protection measures. Individuals with low socioeconomic status and younger age are more prone to anxiety and mood disorders caused by heat. To better understand the modifying influences and identify vulnerable populations, further research using extensive data sets that cover diverse mental disorders is required.
The study, “Long-term apparent temperature, extreme temperature exposure, and depressive symptoms: A longitudinal study in China“, was authored by Jianbo Jin, Zhihu Xu, Ru Cao, Yuxin Wang, Qiang Zeng, Xiaochuan Pan, Jing Huang and Guoxing Li.