Severe weather and mental health

This information is for adults who live with mental illness in England. It is also for their carers, friends and relatives and anyone else interested in the subject.

What is this information about?

This information is about:

  • mental health and severe cold, and tips on how to cope
  • how flooding can affect your mental health, and what you can do, and
  • how to manage your mental health in a heatwave.

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What is the link between mental health and severe cold?

Evidence shows:

  • cold weather and homes can affect people’s mental health, and
  • people who experience mental health issues are more likely to have cold homes.

You might:

  • feel stressed about the cost of keeping your home warm,
  • be unable to heat your home adequately, or
  • feel isolated, and because of a cold home you don’t invite friends over or you go to bed early.

You can get advice on the cost of living and utility bills from our Mental Health and Money Advice website.

You might feel isolated. You can get advice on how to become socially connected outside of your home in our information on:

The weather in England can become cold quickly. It can help to know cold weather is coming so you can be prepared. You can do this by regularly checking a forecast that is considered to be reliable, like the one given by the Met Office.

What other things can I do?

  • Try to make sure you have enough medication if severe cold weather is forecast. See our information on Medication - Choice and managing problems, for options if you are running out.
  • If you feel physically unwell, you can contact your GP or you can contact NHS 111 for advice.
  • Stay warm by blocking drafts from windows, doors, and letterboxes. Drink hot drinks, like tea, soup or hot chocolate. Use blankets and hot water bottles.
  • If you find it difficult to heat your home:
    • there might be a warm bank near you that you can visit, in a place run by someone like a council, library, charity or university. To see if there is warm bank near you, you can contact your local council or search on the internet.
    • you might be able to get cold weather payments if you are getting certain benefits or support for mortgage interest.
    • physical activity can be a good way to stay warm. The We are Undefeatable website and YouTube channel has lots of useful tips on how to move more in your home if you can’t get out.
  • If severe weather stops you getting to your face-to-face peer support group you can try online peer support services: 
  • You can make sure you have enough food and supplies in. This is in case you find it difficult to get out in severe weather. You might want to have some long-life food like dried, frozen or tinned food.
  • Trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet, including at least one hot meal a day will help keep you warm in cold weather. If you’re finding it hard to afford food, you can search for local foodbanks on the Trussel Trust website.
  • If you are isolated in your home in severe cold weather, it might make your mental health worse. You can stay in contact with family and friends, or mental health or social care professionals. You can see our information on Social inclusion and mental illness - How can I become more connected? for advice on staying connected.

How can flooding affect my mental health?

If a flood affects you, it can be scary and it can affect your mental health. Even if your home is not flooded.

Dealing with the effects of a flood can affect your daily life. This can be stressful, tiring and disrupt things like your sleep.

What things can I do?

  • If you live in an area that is vulnerable to flooding, you can check for flood alerts here.
  • See the section ‘What’s the link between mental health and severe cold’ – ‘What other things can I do?’ Some of the ways you can prepare and tips for how to cope apply to flooding too.
  • Talk to neighbours if you want to say how you are feeling or you need practical help or information.
  • There might be local community support groups, recovery hubs or community centres to help with the flooding. To find details, listen, watch or read local news or social media or contact your local council.
  • If your home or business is affected, removing flood water, and addressing damage is important. But try not to overdo cleaning up if possible.
  • If you are feeling down or anxious it can help to talk about how you are feeling to someone you trust. You can also call the emotional support lines to talk about how you are feeling. You can find details for them in our information on Worried about your mental health? How to get treatment and support.
  • You can get advice on What to do before or during a flood from the government website here.
  • You can get advice on Flooding and health: Advice for the public from the government website here.

How can I manage my mental health in a heatwave?

Hot weather is something many people look forward to. But a heatwave can have an impact on a lot of people’s mental health.

The heat might:

  • affect your energy,
  • make you irritable or lower your mood, or
  • affect your sleep at night.

But heatwaves can especially affect people who live with a mental illness.

The extreme heat could, say:

You might be prescribed medication to treat your mental illness. The effects of some of these medications could cause difficulties for you in the heat. For example:

  • excessive sweating is listed as a side-effect of certain SSRIs, a type of antidepressant and
  • some antipsychotics prescribed for conditions such as schizophrenia can lead to overheating. This is because of the impact they can have on the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

But it’s important not to stop taking your medication without medical advice. It’s best to speak to your doctor if symptoms related to the heat are troubling you.

What things can I do in a heatwave?
Everyone experiences heat differently. If you live with a mental illness, here are a few ways to stay on top of things.

  • Drink small amounts of water often
  • Wear loose, light clothing
  • Keep windows open but block out sunlight from your home, especially in the room where you sleep
  • Learn about the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, just so you can spot these if they do happen
  • Get in touch with your GP if your condition gets worse.

© Rethink Mental Illness 2023

Last updated October 2023
Next update October 2024

Version number 1

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