This Fourth of July broke records…
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
The saying goes: “Records are made to be broken.” It is often applied to sports, though when cheating is involved, record-breaking is tarnished or disqualified. Otherwise, it conveys that the record holder should have some humility as humans press forward for better and better performances.
However, in some areas of life, record-breaking is more harmful than beneficial. That was conveyed in an article yesterday in the Washington Post titled “This July 4 was hot. Earth’s hottest day on record, in fact.”1 It certainly was the hottest day on Earth since records started in 1979 and, by extrapolation, likely the hottest in around 125,000 years!
In terms of climate change, this record complemented local heat waves that just occurred in China, Antarctica, and Northern Africa. In a feedback loop that adds insult to the weather injuries, more air-conditioning to cool down often means more use of fossil fuel. We see some of the fallout, as probably by now, most psychiatric clinicians have seen patients with climate-related anxiety, fear, and trauma.
For some time, research has shown that extreme heat disturbs human behavior.2 As violence and aggression goes up, focus and productivity go down. Perhaps, then, it was more than coincidence that the United States, with its unfortunately unique access to firearms, has recorded a record number of mass shootings through the first half of 2023. Over this past holiday weekend, they occurred in Washington, DC; Philadelphia; Ft. Worth; Baltimore; and Indianapolis.
In fact, data indicates that the Fourth of July accounts for the most mass shootings of any other calendar day over the last decade. One reason might be the increased outdoor heat. Another might be the psychological impact of fireworks, which may be perceived, consciously or unconsciously, as irritable in their loudness and triggering reminiscent of lightning, gunfire, and violent explosions.
The kind of records we in mental health care might want to praise is that which occurred in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. A year ago, I wrote the column “The Highland Park Mass Shooting: Sometimes You Just Want to be Proven Wrong,” in this case about mentally ill mass shooting perpetrators like the one in Highland Park and in regards to the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter now on trial. At the 1-year anniversary of the Highland Park July 4, 2022, tragic parade, they decided to have a memorial ceremony at City Hall, followed by a walk along the street where the attack occurred. Grief, compassion, resilience, and community support were in obvious display, and the thousands who marched must qualify in some way for the Guinness Book of Records!
July 4th celebrates the successful Declaration of Independence of the United States from Great Britain in 1776. Perhaps in our connected world, and starting with ourselves, we now need a Declaration of Interdependence that can set records in solving global risks like climate change, nuclear war, artificial intelligence, and environmental toxins.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. Sands L. This July 4 was hot. Earth’s hottest day on record, in fact. The Washington Post. July 5, 2023. Accessed July 6, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/07/05/hottest-day-ever-recorded/
2. Gupta S. How extreme heat from climate change distorts human behavior. Science News. August 18, 2021. Accessed July 6, 2023. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/extreme-heat-climate-change-human-behavior-aggression-equity