Climate change. There’s no secret that there are ALOT of sides to that story; but I’m about to tell you a very crucial one and it’s the impact that climate change has on mental health.
Climate change is thought to be the “stable changes in the meteorological parameters like precipitation and temperature over a period of time in a given region.” Climate change has been coined as a huge global challenge that is especially scary because we are single handily contributing to the progression of it. Climate change impacts people in a ton of different ways but I’m here to talk specifically about it’s impact on our mental health-because it has one.
Temperature and Mental Health
Studies have shown that an increase in temperatures is correlated with an increase in aggression in individuals and with the rise of the global temperature this is really important to think about. With these heightened temperatures there is likely to be an increase in aggressive and criminal behavior as we already know that most crimes are committed in the summer months (when it’s hot hot hot). Additionally, it has been shown that there is an increase in suicide when the temperature is hotter; especially violent suicides. With this known it’s easy to see how an increase in global temperature could increase both overall aggressive behaviors and the number of suicides in the long run. In addition, it has been shown that mental health and behavioral issues peak in times of heat waves. Mood disorders, anxiety, and dementia related disorders have all been shown in to display worse symptoms in times of extreme heat. Not to mention, exposure to extreme heat can lead to both physical and psychological exhaustion.
Psychological Well-Being and Climate Related Disasters
Floods, hurricanes, fires…All of these terrible natural disasters are associated with climate change AND stress-related psychiatric disorders. These kinds of events can also trigger and cause disorders such as PTSD, acute stress reactions, and adjustment disorders-all of which are anxiety disorders that take a lot of rehabilitation. Natural disasters like this can also cause people to experience significant loss like jobs, family members, friends, or pets which could contribute to issues of grief and depression. Bipolar disorder and psychosis (stress related disorders) can also be triggered by natural disasters causing people to relapse and seek new treatment.
As global climate change continues to manifest, it is expected that we will see a larger number of droughts throughout the years to come. Recently, a relationship has been found between the occurrence of drought and farmer suicide. There has been an association found between crop failure as a result of unexpected droughts and suicide in farmers. In a lot of instances a farmer’s crop are his only source of income and when they aren’t able to produce the crop they need they may face extreme economic hardships. In extreme cases, farmers might not be able to provide for their families or may get trapped in extreme debt. Additionally, when the crops aren’t able to be produced, rises in food or other goods in affected regions may dramatically increase causing money problems for entire regions.
Migration and Acculturation
Another problem that climate change causes for us are basic changes in natural habitats and ecosystems that may cause people to move or migrate elsewhere. For example, hurricanes in coastal ares may cause people who live there to uproot their lives and move elsewhere. This sense of uprooting can lead to acculturation stress which in turn can be the case of psychiatric disorders. People develop a sense of connectedness or “home” where they live and when they are forced to give that up it can extremely difficult.
What Can We Do?
First things first, it would be a truly amazing if climate change could just stop right in it’s tracks. However, as that is highly unlikely-we have to take other measures. Developing plans and educating people on ways to combat climate change and the effects of climate change is a HUGE start. People should be aware of how this huge thing is effecting them in so many ways. Additionally, making sure that there are adequate treatment facilities and treatment options for those suffering from mental health is so important-especially for natural-disaster related problems. We can also begin to promote aspects of positive mental health as a way to combat the negative effects climate change has on us. This could include things like yoga, eco-therapy, or other basic self-care strategies. For those experiencing secondary problems associated to climate change (like debt) making during that there are programs available for people combatting that is important. Finally, teaching methods of sustainability and how people can give back to our planet has been shown to be really helpful.
If we know the ways that climate change may effect us we might have an easier time seeing warning signs and seeking help before it’s too late. Preventive measures are important not only for us but also for the sake of our planet.
Padhy, S., Sarkar, S., Panigrahi, M., & Paul, S. (2015). Mental health effects of climate change . Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 19(1).
Photo Credit: I have hyperlinked each photo to the site I retrieved them from.