ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Antipsychotics Impair the Body's Cooling

Jack Bragen
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:56:00 PM

The hot weather is beginning for this year in California, and I think it is helpful to bring up the subject of caution due to heat sensitivity for many mental health consumers. 

Antipsychotic medications sometimes allow people who suffer from severe psychosis to have a chance of living with some amount of normalness, as opposed to being permanently locked up. However, this gift has numerous drawbacks, due to side-effects. 

Medications, in general, aren’t good or bad. They're treatments for psychosis and/or other neurologically caused mental illnesses, and they have both good and bad effects on patients. They are frequently used as a front-line treatment when someone shows up at a hospital and is believed to be suffering from psychosis, depression, or bipolar. 

Among numerous other drawbacks, antipsychotics can impair the body's ability to cool itself in hot weather. This is a simple fact, and no judgment of right or wrong need be attached. 

When taking these drugs, we should take precautions against overheating at this time of year. If the weather is hot, we should remain indoors, and we should use air conditioning if it is available. 

When someone has a medical condition that makes them more vulnerable to a heat related death, it supersedes concerns of energy usage. Avoiding global warming by keeping the air conditioning off can be done by others, not by someone who could lose their life by overheating. This is applicable to anyone with a health condition that makes them sensitive to heat exhaustion. 

If you currently have a CARE discount, you can save more money on your energy bill, in California, with a form (I think you can get it off the P. G. &E website) for your physician to fill out, verifying a medical condition and stating that you need heating and/or cooling. This allows energy costs to be less than they would otherwise be and can allow you to afford use of your air conditioning. 

Furthermore, you should avoid going to athletic events, outdoor events, or other things that could subject you to overheating, when the weather is hot. 

I've heard a psychiatrist mention that heat related deaths were frequent at Atascadero State Hospital, a maximum-security mental health prison, situated halfway between San Francisco and LA. (This was something I'd heard in the 1980's, and I don't have up to date facts about this.) 

I spoke to a woman in the 1980's, who told me that she'd had a son who was schizophrenic who'd died in a jail transport van. I've been in one of those transport vans, and the temperatures can skyrocket. 

The issue of heat, for mental health consumers, is serious stuff. People who take antipsychotics have a very good reason, and not just an excuse, to take care of ourselves in hot weather. 

Jack Bragen is author of "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia, a Self-Help Manual" and other titles.