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Heat-related illness risk higher for those with mental disorders


The Substance and Mental Health Services Administration has issued an alert regarding the increased risk of heat-related illnesses for individuals with mental and substance use disorders. Children and older adults with these conditions particularly are vulnerable to elevated temperatures, according to the alert.

Exposure to excessive heat is dangerous for everyone and can lead to heatstroke, which is considered a medical emergency, according to the alert. Heatstroke occurs when the body’s temperature-regulating system breaks down and the body is unable to cool itself. Internal body temperatures can rise to levels that may cause irreversible brain damage and death.

Individuals with behavioral health conditions who are taking psychotropic medications or using certain substances are at a higher risk for heatstroke and heat-related illnesses, according to the alert. These medications and substances can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate heat and an individual’s awareness that their body temperature is rising.

According to the CDC, effective methods to prevent heat exhaustion include drinking plenty of fluids, replacing salt and minerals that may be removed through heavy sweating, wearing loose and light-colored clothing, wearing sunscreen, staying cool indoors with air conditioning, and monitoring those at high risk. For individuals who may be living in facilities, ensure that they are well hydrated, have access to cooler areas and monitor temperature levels, especially for those individuals who may be taking antipsychotic and anticholinergic medications.

For more information on how to prevent, recognize and treat heat-related illnesses, see the CDC’s publication, “Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety”:

SAMHSA is partnering with the CDC to promote physical and emotional health and prevent comorbid medical conditions for individuals with mental and substance use disorders. To learn more, visit SAMHSA’s Wellness Initiative site:


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