How mental health disintegrates during extreme heat

We know extreme heat is bad for our physical health, but doctors say it’s also bad for our mental health. And the homeless population is especially at risk. 

Water and frozen treats are like currency on the streets during a heat wave, and The Real Minneapolis delivers as much as possible.

"We're serving our friends, our family, our loved ones the way that we would want to be served if we were really struggling at some time in our life," said the group's founder, Valerie Quintana.

For her, the mission is personal. She experienced homelessness herself and knows the value of a kind word from a friendly face. But she doesn’t stop with words.

The Real Minneapolis delivers hundreds of meals and about 1,000 bottles of water every week to people on the streets. Their visits helped Desmond McCloud climb his way out of homelessness.

"Even just a brief moment to get fresh air, get some cold water makes all the difference," he said.

Water and frozen treats can help the unhoused population with their physical health, but extreme heat also damages mental health.

"We've known for at least 40 years that depressed people tend not to be able to sweat adequately," said psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "So if you're depressed, you're also going to find the heat to be more difficult, harder to handle."

Dr. Raison says the mental health issues common among the unhoused population are often associated with an inability to regulate body temperature.

Doctors say people generally sleep worse and suffer worse anxiety in high heat. A 10-year research study found men and women make 8% more emergency room visits for mental health concerns on the hottest days of the summer.

The Real Minneapolis volunteers inherently know the value of their work, but they say there’s no time to take a step back and think about it, especially during extreme weather.

"It makes me feel good for sure," said volunteer Ella Pritchard. "I don't think about it too much because if I feel like there's always somebody else, I could have helped."

Just last week, they had an unhoused friend suffer heat stroke, but you can imagine how much worse things could be without their help.