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Mango madness is real: tropical heat linked to anxiety, aggression and increased suicide rates

Mango Madness

People exposed to extreme heat often suffer increased anxiety, stress and aggression, lower energy levels and may be more likely to commit suicide, according to recent research.

The most recent research, a 2017 study linked increased suicide rates to tropical heat, finding that people were 1.6 times more likely to commit suicide during the Northern Territory’s (NT) wet season.

The study, in which thermal physiologist, Dr Matt Brearly was involved, found that 60 per cent of suicides between 2003-2007 occurred during the NT’s wet season – which falls in the hotter months between November and April.

And a separate 2014 study found tropical heat is linked to poorer mental health in a condition commonly known as “mango madness”.

The study authors, Sue Coleman and Dr Mary Morris found that anxiety, stress and aggression increase during hotter months, while sleep length, mood, appetite and energy levels decreased.

They also found that protective clothing (PPE) often made the heat stress worse.

Dr Morris told the ABC that tradesmen and Indigenous people without access to air-conditioning were the worst affected.

“My biggest concern is for people like roofers,” she said.

“I know they start early and knock off early but the head load on that roof with protective clothing is phenomenal.”

“People are more aggressive and there are more fights and more alcohol use.”

Air Conditioning and Mental Health

Heat and assaults:

The 2017 study also referenced mango madness and found assault-related deaths increased during hotter months, being 4.3 times more likely to occur during the wet season.

And these are not isolated results. The ABC article states “Violent crime including homicide increased markedly in the Top End during the build-up and wet season, despite a fall in population.”

US cities have also been found to have significantly higher violent crimes rates as temperatures increase.

Other suicide and heat stress research:

While this is the first time a seasonal association with suicide has been identified in the NT, a 2012 literature review found links between season (late-spring to early-summer) or ambient temperature and increased rates in suicide.

For example, a 2011 Korean study found that suicide rates were higher in spring and summer than other seasons, with a 1.4 per cent increase in suicide rates for every one degree Celcius increase in average daily temperature.

The study authors conclude “temperature, one of the meteorological factors, is an important risk factor on suicide.”

With the NT’s suicide rate already being approximately twice the national average, identifying potential triggers and areas for prevention is critical.

Preventing mango madness:

With tradesman and other workers without access to air conditioning having being identified as at greater risk of heat stress – and therefore the associated “mango madness” and mental health risks – keeping workers cool is critical.

Tools such as THORZT’s Hyperkewl Plus cooling vest are excellent for keeping workers cool, with several studies showing their ability to help those working in hot conditions to moderate their body temperature – improving thermal comfort, reducing sensatations of effort and boosting productivity.

Crushed ice ingestion is another simple and proven strategy for minimising the effects of heat, with the ice acting as a heat sink on the body.

For more strategies on minimising workplace heat stress, download our guide here.