Living in a cold home can increase the chance of developing mental health struggles.
Winter is approaching and there are new concerns for those who must endure cold homes. With the higher cost of living crisis and consistently rising energy costs, thousands of families are anticipated to not be able to afford to heat their homes. And a new study shows that cold homes are increasing the risk of severe mental health problems, including seasonal depression.
The study took place in the UK and shows that transitioning to living in cold homes increases the risk of mental illness. It also shows that the risk of severe mental health issues doubles for those without past diagnoses, and the risk triples for those previously on the borderline of severe mental illness. In the winter people generally are spending more time indoors, which doesn’t help matters, especially when a home is always cold. Without proper sunlight and the warmth of the spring and summer months, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) increases, even for individuals who can afford to heat their homes. There are also less opportunities to exercise and stay active.
Specifically in the UK, cold homes are a major issue. In fact, a recent finding showed that over one-quarter of low-income households were unable to heat their homes in the winter of 2022. Alarmingly, the UK has a higher level of excess winter deaths that are associated with cold weather – this is despite having a relatively mild climate.
There is no question that living in a home that is cold is detrimental. For instance, colder temperatures can suppress the immune system which will cause more colds and the chances of getting the flu. It can even make certain physical issues, such as arthritis, worse. And those who are asthmatic have a tougher time during the winter, especially if a home has poor ventilation.
The findings come from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) began in 2009 with a survey of about 40,000 households. Even though this study focused on the UK, it is evident that relationship between cold homes and mental health is something that is a global problem.
For families living in cold homes, this can affect mental health in many different ways. For example, especially for low-income families, heating costs are a huge source of stress and financial strain. These people also more than likely are not socializing and inviting people over. This causes loneliness which raises the chance of battling seasonal depression. Not being able to keep your family warm and knowing they are uncomfortable will also cause high stress. As we all know, stress puts us at increased risk for both physical and mental health issues. Moreover, when the body is constantly trying to keep warm, internal processes slow and fatigue is evident. As a result, anxiety, depression, and memory and concentration impairment have all been documented consequences..
Cold weather can negatively affect the mind and body in many ways. The lack of sunlight and shorter days can be a major trigger of severe, seasonal depression, and it’s easy to slip into a prolonged state of tiredness and feeling generally unwell. Aches and pains also worsen when one is cold.
This problem is something that is avoidable with the help and support of the government. In the U.S., the federal government has the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program assists eligible low-income households with their heating costs.