Hot Anxiety: The Invisible Victims Of A Heat Wave

Severe heat doesn't just threaten the physically vulnerable such as babies and the elderly. It also poses a serious risk to those suffering from anxiety.

In a very hot Hangzhou, China on Monday.
In a very hot Hangzhou, China on Monday.
Marie-Pierre Genecand

GENEVA â€" The refreshing, soothing and energizing rain finally came. Perhaps with the exception of the Sting fan who resented the Paléo Festival show being rained on, people welcomed the night's showers with open arms. It was a cooling relief in a region where a devastating heat wave has caused a 15% increase in the mortality rate of older citizens.

We know it by now because the message has been repeated time and time again: In case of abnormally high temperatures, we must take special care of children and old people, making sure to hydrate and feed them properly. Less visible in the media are people suffering from anxiety, whose conditions also worsen during severe heat.

"I could slap everyone. I am constantly irritated. My body can't rest. I feel exhausted," says 61-year-old Edith, who suffers from a mixed anxiety-depression disorder. She doesn't typically feel this bad. With a cognitive behavioral approach and emotion-centered therapy (ECT), this receptionist in early retirement manages to curb her anxiety fits. "If I shut the curtains and close the windows to keep the fresh air in, I get claustrophobic, and if I go outside I can't breathe," she says. "I get obsessed by it. So much so that it triggers fits. I recently started taking anxiolytics."

Defense mechanism

Emna Ragama, a psychotherapist and psychologist in Geneva, explains that when patients are exposed to high temperatures, their bodies trigger defense mechanisms that cause hyperventilation, dizziness, leg numbness and the sensation of running out of oxygen. "Sometimes fear can cloud their judgment," she says. "They feel exhausted by the fits and they develop symptoms of depression. If the heat wave lasts too long, they tend to avoid as much as possible and this leads to their isolation. What's more, during the summer holidays, they may no longer be in contact with their usual network of friends."

This is what 30-year-old Karen knows well. An independent consultant who works from home, she says that she began refusing any and all social invitations when the heat wave began. "I always picture the worst-case scenario: overcrowded buses with no air conditioning, restless crowds, long queues in supermarkets," she says. "I am so afraid of being trapped that I stay at home. I fall back into these avoiding strategies that I managed to overcome. It makes me feel guilty and intensifies my anxiety. I feel lonely and isolated."

Ragama says there's no real solution. "You need to accept living with these high temperatures and stop fighting them," she says. "You can try to immerse yourself in swimming pools as often as possible." Going out for a walk in the woods, she says, can also have a positive effect on the nervous system.

Regama also advises her patients to engage in sessions of mindfulness. "People are not idiots," she says. "They know what's not right with them. The aim of the emotion-centered therapy is to accompany the person on the their road to well-being. It's important to take the drama out of it."

Playing down the importance of the heat wave is at the heart of this paradox. The more the media report and comment about it, the more difficult the situation becomes for the anxiety-stricken. "I often tell my patients to keep away from the news," Regama says. "Since the start of the heat wave, their body has adapted to it and the stress caused by the thought that "heat wave equals danger" is more noxious than the heat wave iself."

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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