Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 167

The Dog and Doggone Days of Summer

Here’s why we need to better prepare for the doggone days of summer.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “the dog days of summer.” We are in them right now, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The phrase goes back to Greek and Roman history. It ran from July 24 to August 24, and was thought to be an evil weather time when the sea would boil, wine would turn sour, disease would rise in humans, and dogs would go mad.

Although the canine connotation connects to astrology, it also is a fitting metaphor for heat and humidity. Dogs do not have a huge supply of sweat glands and often have a thick coat of fur. Both characteristics reduce their ability to regulate their body temperature, and hence the visible panting.

Unfortunately, the myths and metaphors are turning out to be prophetic and realistically true. Our seas are becoming warmer, wine left out could easily turn sour, medical and psychiatric diseases are on the rise in people, and dogs best not be left in cars.

Maybe the “doggone days of summer” would now be more accurate. One of the synonyms for doggone is cursed. That seems to be so, except that we have cursed ourselves by our human behavior that has significantly contributed to this global heating and climate instability.

Right now, we are in a heat dome projected for the rest of August in the United States. Heat records are expected to be broken in the Northeast. Kentucky has had disastrous floods and a projected heat wave to complicate its relief efforts. An uncontrolled and destructive wildfire is burning in Northern California.

If this is not a societal public health crisis, what is? If so, it is both a danger and opportunity, as the Chinese character for crisis suggests. The opportunity is for us in psychiatry to finally treat it as such. Psychiatry as usual no longer suffices. We know what to do to treat climate-related psychiatric conditions, but we have not been anywhere near successful in their prevention. As to adaptation to the climate instability, the lack of success to date in such countries as the USA, Europe, Australia, and India does not bode well for the success of that strategy, especially for the poorer. Recommending adaptation may just be another form of psychological denial.

Doggone it, let’s focus in preventing these doggone days! Try to stay cool this weekend, but heat up your climate activism.

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™.