Translate page with Google

Pulitzer Center Update May 26, 2023

How Extreme Heat Impacts Mental Health and Human Rights

Workers in a field

High heat exposure, combined with a lack of water, rest and shade, can lead to poor health outcomes...

Migrant seasonal farm workers pick and package crops into boxes in the Salinas Valley of central California. Image by David A. Litman/Shutterstock. United States, 2015.

Climate Change as a Mental Health Crisis

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and as parts of the world experience early-season heat waves, a new Pulitzer Center-supported investigation is drawing connections between extreme heat, mental health, and human rights. 

In a series for TIME, grantee Aryn Baker looks at how rising global temperatures due to climate change are leading to more frequent and intense heat waves, with severe consequences for human health and well-being. 

The first two pieces in the series explore how heat impacts brain health, a connection that is just starting to take hold in broader conversations about mental health. When temperatures spike, so do rates of hate speech, violence, and suicide, and a single-degree increase in temperature above normal contributes to higher probabilities of depression and anxiety. People experiencing mental health conditions are also especially at risk of heat-related fatalities.

In the U.S. prison system, a growing number of people with pre-existing medical conditions and mental health concerns are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Baker’s reporting highlights the rise of heat-related deaths in prisons, where incarcerated individuals face oppressive heat exacerbated by climate change, poor ventilation, and inadequate air conditioning. Seventy percent of Texas prisons lack AC in cells and common spaces, Baker reports.

“In the context of climate change, AC is not a luxury. It is a human right,” Julie Skarha, an environmental epidemiologist at Brown University’s School of Public Health, says in Baker's reporting.

“We have to start thinking about climate change as a mental health crisis,” says Robin Cooper, an associate clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco and president of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance.

Baker will continue reporting on the experiences of America's migrant agricultural labor force in southern Georgia as workers endure a summer predicted to be hotter than ever. Read on for more stories from the Pulitzer Center’s environmental investigations unit—and don’t miss our upcoming event with mental health experts, Starting the Conversation: Talking About Youth Mental Health, on May 30 at 6:30pm EDT.



Brazil’s Ministry of Labor (MPT) will investigate the exploitation of the Yanomami Indigenous people in the piassaba extraction industry in the mid-Rio Negro (mid-Black River) region. The decision follows Pulitzer Center-supported reporting published in the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper as part of the project "Not an Inch": Bolsonaro Ignores Obligation To Demarcate Indigenous Lands.
The industry for piassaba, a fiber extracted from Brazilian palm trees and used to make brooms, is exploiting Indigenous labor by indebting workers, according to the investigation by Pulitzer Center grantees Vinicius Jorge Carneiro Sassine and Lalo de Almeida. Their reports will be used as evidence in the proceedings and as a basis for next steps by the MPT, according to MPT representative Jorsinei Dourado do Nascimento.

This message first appeared in the May 26, 2023, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.

Click here to read the full newsletter.


logo for the Our Work/Environment grant


Our Work/Environment

Our Work/Environment


yellow halftone illustration of an elephant


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
navy halftone illustration of a female doctor with her arms crossed


Health Inequities

Health Inequities
navy halftone illustration of a man holding a lit candle


Mental Health

Mental Health