Climate Change Impact on Mental Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates an increase of 250,000 excess deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to the “well-understood impacts of climate change”.

The impacts include heat-related morbidity and mortality, an increase in vector-borne diseases (e.g. dengue fever, malaria), an increase in respiratory illness, etc.

But the impacts on mental health due to climate change are often overlooked.

In this article we will get to know about how mental health is affected due to climate change and what can be done to prevent it. 

Let us first look at what exactly mental health is.

What is Mental Health?

As per Wikipedia, Mental Health is the level of psychological well-being or an absence of mental illness. It is the state of someone who is “functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment”.

In simple terms mental health is not just an absence of mental disorders. It means an individual is able to realize his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make contribution to his or her community. 

One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.

Mental Health
Image Source: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/climate-change-and-mental-health-connections/affects-on-mental-health

How Climate Change affect Mental Health?


Effect due to rising temperature:

  • An increase in temperature has been linked to a rise in aggressive behavior. 
  • Heat waves are associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and dementia.
  • Increased temperature in work place leads to psychological distress.

Droughts impact on mental health:

  • With the rise in temperature due to climate change droughts affected areas are going to rise and changes in precipitation patterns will result in an increase in floods.
  • Unexpected droughts and floods are going to result in the failure of crops and will lead to an increase in farmer suicides. 
  • People tend to migrate from drought-affected areas to new places in search of livelihood and starting a new life all over again is very mentally distressful. 
  • Food supplies will be affected which means people will not be able to have a balanced diet which is going to affect the proper functioning of the brain.

Impact due to other climate related disasters:

  • Climate-related disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and bush-fires are associated with stress-related psychiatric disorders. 
  • Losses faced by an individual due to climate-related disasters can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Economic changes due to climate change and its effect on mental health:

  • The economy of the climate-related disasters affected areas is affected to a large extent.
  • Drought prone areas are vulnerable to lower socioeconomic status and higher level of distress and helplessness. 
  • A decrease in social capital leads to a reduction in well-being and may lead to mental health problems.
  • People living in economically deprived areas are reluctant to go for healthcare checkups especially for mental health. 
Psychological Health impacts of climate change
Image Source: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/9/1583

Impact on physical health due to climate change and its association with mental health:

  • As the changes in the environment and our surroundings increase due to climate change, the physical health of people will be hugely impacted and there will be an increase in the number of diseases. 
  • Poor Physical health is interlinked with poor mental health and psychological disorders. 
  • Anxiety and depressive symptoms are generated due to physical illness. 

Effect on mental health due to migration:  

  • The causes of migration such as submergence of coastal areas, cyclones, and floods, prolonged droughts, etc – all are attributed to climate change.
  • Migrants are more likely to suffer from “Schizophrenia” – a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions, and feelings. 
  • Individuals who have to migrate due to disasters are at greater chances to suffer from psychiatric illness than those who migrate voluntarily. 
  • Solastalgia” describes a loss of solace that occurs with the degradation of the environment of an individual’s belonging. This discomfiture is likely to occur with climate change.

What can be done?

  • Talking about it – The most important step to solve a problem is to talk about it. When you express how really you feel about any issue or anything else problems get solved. It is very normal to have anxiety or fear about the impacts of climate change. Start sharing your feelings. Social media provides very good platforms where you can join groups or discussions on climate change, share about how you feel, and get to know about how to cope up with the stress related to impacts of climate change.
  • Preparing prior to any disaster – People normally living in disaster-prone areas should prepare themselves prior to any kind of disaster so that minimal damage is done to physical and mental health.
  • Spending time with nature – When we spend time with nature, it provides us calm and relaxes our mind. Going for a morning walk in a park gives a very good start to the day. We realize the selfless service that mother earth provides us and this encourages us to do our bit to prevent climate change.
  • Living a sustainable lifestyle – When we do something for others it gives us a feeling of self-satisfaction. By following a sustainable lifestyle you are not only helping to save the planet but it is helping humanity also. As more and more people follow a sustainable lifestyle, ultimately climate change can be prevented. Hence, the issue of the impact on mental health due to climate change is solved. 
  • Climate Action – It is one of the 17 sustainable development goals, it demands actions that are aimed to prevent climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5°C. If we are able to prevent climate change then the impact on mental health due to it is automatically prevented.

My Opinion: 

Mental Health is a very integral part of our health. Any person who is not well is kind of a liability to a nation.

The best way to prevent the impact on mental health due to climate change is to prevent climate change. Countries have to take big steps and immediately make a shift to renewable energy. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from any source. Take all the necessary steps that are required and make climate action the utmost priority. 

Steps need to be taken at an unprecedented rate and level if we want humanity to be mentally good. 

Remember we have very less time and the clock is ticking very fast……

References :

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446935/
  2. https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/02/how-climate-change-affects-mental-health/

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Yash

Yash loves to read and write on issues such as climate change, renewable energy, SDGs, and other related issues. He wants to make people aware of climate change and encourage them to follow a sustainable lifestyle.

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