When people think about climate change, they usually think about the impact it has on the environment.
But a new report has found that climate change takes a significant toll on mental health.
Climate change-induced severe weather and other natural disasters have the most immediate effects on mental health in the form of the trauma and shock – and when these may subside, they can be replaced by post-traumatic stress disorder.
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Climate change-induced severe weather and other natural disasters have the most immediate effects on mental health in the form of the trauma and shock. Pictured are people in New Orleans after being rescued from their homes in high water after Hurricane Katrina struck
The report, released by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica, says that sever weather events caused by climate change can cause shock due to personal injuries, loss of a loved one, damage to or loss of personal property or even the loss of livelihood.
For example, among a sample of people living in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, rates of suicide and suicidal thoughts more than doubled.
One in six people met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, and 49 per cent of people living in an affected area developed an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression.
The impacts of climate change, however, aren’t just limited to severe disaster events.
There are also mental health impacts from longer-term climate change impacts.
For example, changes in climate can affect agriculture, infrastructure and livability – which can affects people’s occupations quality of life, sometimes forcing them to migrate and become climate change refugees.
These effects can lead to a loss of personal and professional identity, loss of social support structures, and a loss of a sense of control and autonomy and other mental health impacts such as experiencing feelings helplessness, fear and fatalism.
Destroyed houses in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward August 25, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Climate change can cause shock due to personal injuries, loss of a loved one, damage to or loss of personal property or even the loss of livelihood
These mental health effects can also have an impact on physical health.
High levels of stress and anxiety are linked to physical health effects such as a weakened immune system.
In addition, worrying about potential future impacts of climate change can lead to stress that builds up over time, leading to stress related problems such as substance abuse, anxiety and depression.
Climate change can also have an impact on the way communities interact.
Both long-term effects such as drought, and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, have been shown to increase hostility and interpersonal aggression, and contribute to the loss of social identity an cohesion.
TIPS TO SUPPORT COMMUNITY RESILIENCE
- Assess and expand the community mental health infrastructure.
- Facilitate social cohesion through community design.
- Train the people who will serve the community during a disaster.
- Provide clear and frequent information.
- Reduce disparities.
- Pay special attention to vulnerable populations.
- Develop trusted and action focused warning systems.
- Provide a fast response.
- Have a post-disaster plan.
- Ensure equitable and transparent distribution of resources
- Engage community members
- Increase cooperation and social cohesion.
- Provide opportunities for meaningful action.
Communities that are more dependent on natural environments can experience even more mental health impacts.
The report says that ‘resilient communities can create the physical and social infrastructure that makes them less susceptible to negative effects’.
‘Individuals’ personal capacity to withstand trauma is increased when they are connected to their networks off- and online,’ said the report.
‘Researchers have found that higher levels of social support during and in the aftermath of a disaster are associated with lower rates of psychological distress.’
Tips to help develop resilience in individuals include boosting personal preparedness, finding a source of personal meaning and encouraging connection to parents, family and other role models.
The many different ways climate change impacts human health. The effects of climate change can be mental and physical
Tips to help develop resilience at the community level include reducing disparities, paying special attention to vulnerable populations and having a post-disaster plan.
The report also said that environmentally friendly lifestyle choices and policies can have a positive effect on mental health.
For example, cycling or walking to work has been associated with lowered stress levels.
And if neither of those options are practical, using public transportation has been linked to feelings of community cohesion and reduced symptoms of stress and depression.
Being able to access green spaces also has a positive impact by lowering stress levels.
SUPPORT FOR SUFFERERS
For confidential support call the Samaritans on ,1 (800) 273-TALK visit a local Samaritans branch or see www.samaritansusa.org for details.
In the UK, contact HOPELine UK helplines services on 0800 068 41 41, text 07786 209 697, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.