“Climate Change affects Mental Health” Changes in climate patterns lead to natural disasters. For example, rising sea levels caused by global warming lead to massive flooding and severe heat waves. These natural disasters lead to the loss of lives and properties, leaving many displaced from their homes and jobs, many of whom may not recover until several years after but researchers are beginning to uncover a hitherto unrecognized effect of natural disasters: mental health disorders.
Surveys reveal that many years after Hurricane Katrina; people who were affected are still enduring the mental health effects of the trauma. Many have to deal with anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders more than a decade later. Halfway around the world in India, a similar trend was observed. There, farmers become suicidal after heavy heat waves or flooding damage their crops. Furthermore, studies reveal that extreme weather conditions are linked with increases in aggressive behaviour and violence.
Mental Health Changes in Climate Change
A team of researchers from Canada and Australia did a study to assess the mental health effects of climate change. The study evaluated the mental health impacts on a wide variety of people as a result of extreme climate. In addition, the authors described actions that need to be taken.
Many may lack the requisite coping skills to handle such tragedies. People may spiral into anxiety, aggressive behaviours or drug and alcohol dependence to cope with the disaster. Even years after the physical effects of climate change have resolved. Many of these mental health conditions linger, leading to maladaptive thinking and behavioural patterns which may lead to phobias, post-traumatic stress disorders and anxiety disorders.
A father who lost his wife and children in a hurricane may develop mental health disorders that border on self-blame and anxiety. This presents as phobias relating to objects, persons, or locations that trigger the fear responses he had during the disaster.
Who is Vulnerable to Mental Health Effects of Climate Change?
Not everyone who has experienced the horrifying effects of climate change develops mental health disorders. The majority cope and are able to recover.
Children, the elderly, the chronically ill, pregnant women and people with mental illness are probably more vulnerable. They are less resilient in general.
People of lower socioeconomic status, refugees and the homeless are also possible more vulnerable to mental health issues following extreme climate changes as their disadvantaged position makes it harder for them to recover.
People with mental health challenges may already find it difficult to cope with a normal daily routine. Worst still, these people may lack adequate emotional and social support to help them overcome their challenges. Being displaced by natural disasters caused by climate change or losing their loved ones to such events may not only worsen their conditions but may also trigger a relapse in those who had been recovering.
Climate change affects mental health by adding an extra stress
Moreover, people with mental health problems often depend on social services for therapy, medication and support. In extreme weather situations, many of these services may be disrupted. Even after these disasters, leaving this vulnerable group without care. The elderly and chronically ill are also at risk of mental health complications of climate change.
These groups of people also require social services and infrastructure for care and support but in the absence of these facilities after a disaster, many may experience an exacerbation of their illnesses. The elderly, who may have a physical and learning impairment, may also find it difficult to cope with the stress of climate change.
Children are also vulnerable to mental health conditions following a disaster. Separation from caregivers, loss of friends and loved ones impacts children. In addition, parental stress and disruptions in routines cause further stress.
Researchers have noted a close link between mental health challenges and the effects of climate change. We have a responsibility to curb this. A priority is to address the primary causes of climate change, greenhouse emissions.
Similarly, we also need to address the factors that drive mental health problems in a disaster. This includes improving access to and availability of mental health support during and after a disaster, mental health training for disaster management for first responders and availability of effective social support systems during a disaster.