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.