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In a recent article, Dr. Emma Lawrance, Mental Health Innovations Fellow at the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London wrote that “climate change and mental health are two of the most significant and pressing challenges facing societies across the world. Yet, growing awareness of these global issues has not been met with sufficient action to mitigate their impacts.”

As the frequency of extreme weather events increases, the expectation is also for greater mental and emotional distress.

Worryingly the report also says,

“An increase of temperature of 1 degree C correlates with an approximate 1% increase in suicide.”

For the US and Mexico, this would amount to an additional 22,000 deaths by 2050.

We need to be having the conversations about how we will combat the effects of prolonged heatwaves, wildfires and also how poor air quality affects health and asthma rates.

We need greater community awareness of the threats to health (physical and mental) of climate change.

 

 

The Black Dog Institute is also urging governments to do all they can to mitigate climate change because as the frequency and severity of natural disasters increase, and the average global temperature continues to rise, we will see greater adverse mental health effects.

BDI also report that 20-50% of people who live through unpredictable and extreme weather events will experience immediate higher rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, sleep disruption and suicidal thoughts.

For every person who experiences a physical injury because of a natural hazard, 40 will experience psychological impacts.

Moreover, these impacts will be felt by the more vulnerable in our society. Those living with existing mental illness or disability. Those with existing heart and respiratory health concerns issues and those living in remote and rural communities.

 

We currently can’t meet the needs for those struggling with mental illness.

If you or a loved one have tried to access mental health services recently, you’ll know just how hard it is to get an appointment, let alone in a timely manner.

Our mental health system is at breaking point, which is why it’s time to step back and start asking better questions.

What needs to happen?

Are we asking the right people what is needed?

Are we addressing the root causes of the psychological distress and mental illness being experienced?

If climate change is also implicated, what does this mean in terms of getting Government and Organisations actively involved to address the environmental concerns?

What one small thing can we all undertake to start moving the wheels of transforming how we diagnose, evaluate, and manage mental health? Because when you feel you’re doing something, it alleviates the sense of helplessness and worry associated with a problem that feels too big to resolve.

As a realistic optimist, I am holding on to the fact that there are many scientists and researchers around the world seeking to find solutions to our global problems and while it may take a while and there may be a few false starts, we as humans are nothing if not adaptive and solution focused!

 

It’s not all bad news.

Dr. Louise Lambert and Aziz Mulay-Shah were our recent guests on the Thriving with Sarah and Jenny Podcast hosted by Sarah Metcalfe and me. They are working tirelessly to raise awareness of the bidirectional impact of taking care of the planet and ourselves.

As Dr. Louise says, “if we care about our mental health and wellbeing and living more sustainably it’s going to be good for the planet. If we care about the planet and living more sustainably, it’s going to be good for people. It’s a win-win-win.

By staying attuned to what is being discovered and adding to the collective voice raising concern and demanding action, we can turn this ship around.

 

“Climate change is the greatest global health threat facing the world in the 21st century, but it is also the greatest opportunity to redefine the social and environmental determinants of health.” – Lancet Countdown on Health

 

What are your thoughts on the role of climate change and mental health?

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available for purchase.

If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Jenny is a Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician, author, coach, and workplace health and wellbeing specialist. Her latest book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

2 Comments

  • David Beard says:

    Hi Jenny.

    I hope you are well and life is good. I enjoy your newsletters.

    I’ve been reading a lot from both sides of the climate change discussion lately and I think the fear of climate change is doing much more harm than the impact of extreme weather events. Not discounting the impact on those directly affected.

    While I totally agree we need to take better care of the environment, I’m not convinced that human CO2 emissions are the major contributor. And I certainly don’t think destroying our food supply (eg governments in the Netherlands taking away farmer’s land, Ireland culling 200k of cattle) is helping our health. They are trying to change the way we have eaten and produced food for centuries!

    Only 50 years ago the headlines said we were heading for an ice age due to climate change so I’m not sure all the fear mongering and destruction of industries is justified now.

    As much as the papers all say the science is settled, I’m not sure it is. And putting more and more control of food systems in the hands of big corporates can’t be good.

    I do fear for future generations, but I’m more fearful of governments and big business getting more and more control than I am of climate change.

    David

  • Jenny says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks so much for your considered comments.

    I agree, there is so much we can do better in protecting our environment, but the point I was trying to raise was first that many of our kids and adolescents are already deeply concerned for their futures (for a variety of valid reasons) and experiencing heightened levels of anxiety. What can help will be to alleviate some of that fear especially around climate change by helping them to understand there are things they can do that will contribute to a healthier planet for all and that while it seems scary, there is much already underway to help us to adapt to changing temperatures and ways of living.

    So yes, addressing the fear is vital.

    The second point is that the increasing level of psychological distress caused by the displacement of people and populations because of natural disasters, flood, drought and fire is very real, and at present, we do not have the capacity even to begin to address this adequately.

    This is where education and building awareness of how to elevate mental wellbeing will be essential to prevent that distress from progressing into actual mental illness. And this is where governments and industries can play an active role in sharing the positive messaging.

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