The American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica recently published a report discussing the effects of climate change on mental health and offered recommendations for individuals and clinicians on how to take preventative action.
“When you think about climate change, mental health might not be the first thing that comes to mind,” Howard S. Kurtzman, PhD, acting executive director for science at the American Psychological Association, and Bob Perkowitz, president of ecoAmerica, wrote. “It is time to expand information and action on climate and health, including mental health. The health, economic, political and environmental implications of climate change affect all of us. The tolls on our mental health are far reaching. They induce stress, depression and anxiety; strain social and community relationships; and have been linked to increases in aggression, violence and crime.”
Some effects may stem from natural disasters due to climate change, such as floods, storms, wildfires and heatwaves, but other effects develop more gradually. Indirect effects of climate change include weakened infrastructure and less secure food systems.
Major acute mental health effects include trauma and shock, PTSD, stress, anxiety, substance abuse and depression, according to researchers.
Climate change induced extreme weather, changing weather patterns, damaged food and water resources and air pollution affect mental health.
Increased stress from these events may hurt social relationships and physical health, including memory loss, sleep disorders, immune suppression and digestion changes, according to researchers.
Recommendations for individuals include:
- develop and routinely practice household emergency plans;
- understand family medications and their side effects;
- practice resilience interventions;
- build strong social networks with family, friends, neighbors and other community members;
- support clean energy to prevent further climate change; and
- start a community resilience project.
Mental health clinicians have “the opportunity to help make the link between health and climate.” To do so, the researchers recommended the following:
- become a climate-literate professional and stay up-to-date with climate change news and communications best practices;
- facilitate conversations and workshops with other mental health professionals;
- be vocal within your community, get involved locally to support climate solutions; and
- support national and international climate change solutions by sharing your knowledge and expertise publicly.
By following these recommendations, it may be possible to minimize the negative effects of climate change on mental health and the environment. – by Amanda Oldt
Clayton S, et al. Mental health and our changing climate: impacts, implications, and guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.