Mental Health and Our Changing Climate
Learn more about the mental health impacts of climate change on individuals and communities. Further information and resources are below.
Mental Health Impacts
Our climate is changing at an unprecedented and alarming rate with profound impacts on human life. This includes direct impacts on individual and community mental health stemming from both severe weather events and longer term climate change.
Climate change-fueled disaster events impact mental health in the following ways:
Individual Impacts including trauma and shock, PTSD, anxiety, depression that can lead to suicidal ideation and risky behavior, feelings of abandonment, and physical health impacts (such as digestive conditions and weakened immune system);
Community-wide impacts including strains on social relationships, reduced social cohesion, interpersonal violence including domestic and child abuse, and increases in stress and PTSD amongst vulnerable populations.
Longer term climate change can cause equally if not more significant mental health impacts:
Heat can fuel mood and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, vascular dementia, use of emergency mental health services, suicide, interpersonal aggression, and violence. Additionally, some medications used to treat mental illness make people more susceptible to the effects of heat.
Drought can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, uncertainty, shame, humiliation, and suicide, particularly amongst farmers.
Air pollution has been linked to increased anxiety and use of mental health services, lower happiness and life satisfaction, and other negative well-being impacts.
Changes in the local environment can cause grief, emotional pain, disorientation, and poor work performance as well as harm interpersonal relationships and self-esteem.
Displacement from severe weather events can cause a range of negative mental health impacts due to loss of place, community, and livelihoods. The loss of personal identity, autonomy, control, and culture can lead to mental distress, insecurity, diminished self-worth, sadness, anxiety, depression, anger, and weakened social and community cohesion.
Ecoanxiety: concern about climate change coupled with worry about the future can lead to fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion, stress, and sadness, referred to as ecoanxiety and climate anxiety. Studies indicate this anxiety is more prevalent among young people and may be associated with increases in substance abuse and suicidal ideation.
Warming climates can also lead to aggravated interpersonal aggression (such as domestic violence, assault, and rape) and interpersonal violence (murder). Heightened anxiety and uncertainty likewise negatively impact social relationships and attitudes toward other people.
Migration and competition for scarce resources can lead to intergroup hostility, aggression, violence (political conflict, war), and even terrorism.
Image courtesy of ecoAmerica and the American Psychological Association
The inequities of climate change show that the burdens will fall heavily on those oppressed by historic and present day social, economic, and political power dynamics. No group is homogenous, however those who are economically disadvantaged, from communities of color, are indigenous, children, older, or women, have disabilities or pre-existing mental health conditions, or are outdoor workers may be more prone to mental health difficulties as climate change exacerbates preexisting vulnerabilities. Structural and systemic racism, discrimination, disinvestment, and other challenges coupled with high exposure to climate impacts can lead to: stress, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, PTSD, mental illness, suicide, neurological complications, behavioral problems, cognitive deficits, reduced memory, academic performance, and IQ, violence, crime, higher exposure to violence and crime, and higher rates of incarceration.
Image courtesy of the Well Being Trust
Ready for more? Learn what you can do to protect your health in a changing climate with ClimateRx.