We often hear about severe storms, famines, large floods, and the impact of climate change on the agricultural and infrastructure sectors. However, climate change may be less emphasized when it comes to mental and physical health.
Food insecurity caused by agricultural change can lead to depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems. In addition, climate change can affect mental health directly (through natural disasters, extreme heat, and migration). It can also lead to existential concerns and future anxieties.
While most people cope well with severe weather conditions, many individuals experience a range of difficulties, including people losing jobs, having to move, or losing social support, all of which negatively impact mental health. Changing global climates is, in fact, one of the leading causes of mild stress, high-risk coping behaviors like increasing alcohol consumption, and, occasionally, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
Possibilities for public health improvement
In working closely with the public health sector, global health authorities can actively dismantle mental health stigma. It can encourage people, especially those at high risk, to seek treatment. Reducing exposure to social and environmental stressors can also lessen their cumulative and interactive effects. In addition to addressing poverty and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these interventions may involve increased resources for low-income people or households. Now that the government is increasing the number of jobs for MPH graduates improving mental health response and preparedness has never been easier.
With sufficient information, you, as an individual, can also bring change in your closed circles. Let’s learn more about climate anxiety and other mental health disorders caused by climate change.
What are the mental health threats posed by climate change?
Climate change can cause social and environmental stressors, like increased temperatures, extreme weather events, deteriorated air and water quality, or diminished food safety, resulting in adverse mental health outcomes. These include anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Climate anxiety is probably the most significant problem, as it affects young and old alike, with long-term consequences.
What is climate anxiety?
Anxiety about the effects of climate change is called climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety. Those who experience climate anxiety are not mentally ill. Instead, it stems from uncertainty about the future and alerts of the dangers of climate change. The threats posed by climate change are real, so it’s natural for people to feel concerned and fearful. When people worry about the climate, they may feel grief, anger, guilt, or shame, affecting their moods, behaviors, and thinking.
How common is climate anxiety?
Over two-thirds of Americans report feeling some climate anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association. A study found that 84% of 16-25-year-olds are at least moderately concerned about climate change, while 59% are very or extremely concerned. The effects of pollution disproportionately affect children and young adults. Climate change can put a billion children at “extremely high risk,” according to a UNICEF report from 2021. Moreover, children and young adults are highly susceptible to chronic stress effects and may also be affected by climate anxiety or depression.
How can you manage climate anxiety?
Climate anxiety is characterized by uncertainty and a loss of control, so the best thing to do is take action. A support group trusted friends, or a therapist can provide a safe space to express your worries and fears.
You may also want to start making lifestyle changes consistent with your values. Consider taking fewer flights, joining a protest, or engaging in climate change advocacy. You can also benefit from joining non-profit organizations that help you process any climate anxiety and connect with others to take meaningful action.
How can you help a younger person?
Climate anxiety affects children and youth disproportionately. You can consider showing your allyship in the following ways to help a child, adolescent, or young adult with climate anxiety:
- Acknowledge their concerns. “I understand your concerns (or anger) about this matter.”
- Make sure advocacy groups are aware of their efforts. Work together to find organizations they can get involved with.
- Learn how you can reduce your environmental impact.
- Be supportive of your loved one’s decision to make lifestyle changes, especially changes they can observe at home.
- Plant a tree or flowers with your family or take a walk in the park.
How is climate change affecting other aspects of mental health?
Climate-related extreme weather and other events can negatively impact individuals psychologically, resulting in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), difficulty sleeping, social withdrawal, irritability, and drug abuse. A highly destructive hurricane, for example, can cause symptoms of acute depression and PTSD, which result in displacement or loss of lives, property, resources, and social support. A loss of identity and livelihood can be associated with symptoms of depression or even suicide during extreme drought events. People forced to leave their homes due to climate-related events may also suffer mental health consequences.
An individual may experience social stressors due to climate change, such as a lack of employment, health care, and family problems. A combination of social stressors can lead to social fragmentation and instability at a community level.
Understanding adverse mental health consequences and other health issues is vital to understanding how psychological stress interacts with other environmental factors. The mental health impact of climate change concerns such as eco-anxiety and solastalgia, distress caused by the loss of a sense of home, needs better understanding.
Using climate change and mental health research findings, we can develop more effective mental health education and communication programs for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
The bottom line
Environmental changes can affect our everyday lives, perceptions, and experiences as individuals and communities. In addition to physical injury, illness, and mortality, climate change can impact mental health and well-being. Temperature extremes, weather events, and natural disasters can lead to psychological problems like stress and depression. Also, climate change can lead to other mental health issues such as climate anxiety, persistent worry over environmental disasters, and worries over the future of our planet.
People and communities living in climate-sensitive areas are especially vulnerable to climate change health impacts, which come laden with uncertainty. By taking action, you may feel more in control. Make changes in your lifestyle based on your values, talk with others, and join forces to help yourself and others.