The impact of climate change on mental health goes beyond anxiety

Key points

  • A recent survey found that 75% of teenagers and young people are afraid of the future due to climate change.
  • Anxiety is just one of the effects of climate change on mental health. It is also related to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and severe mood disorders.
  • Experts say that building resilience at the individual and community levels will be the key to reducing the impact of climate change on mental health.

Ask a young man what they are most concerned about in the future. They are likely to mention climate change. In fact, according to a recent survey, 75% of people said “the future is terrifying”, which asked 10,000 16-25 year-olds their views on climate change.

However, ecological anxiety-a term describing “long-term fear of environmental destruction”-is only the beginning of global warming affecting our mental health. A shocking new report from the American Psychological Association (APA) found a link between climate change and serious mental health problems, from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to schizophrenia.

Let’s take a closer look at how climate change puts people’s mental health at risk, and expert advice to solve these problems.

Natural disasters make survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder

As climate change has led to an increase in extreme weather events, such as severe hurricanes, floods and wildfires, researchers have the opportunity to study the impact of these disasters on survivors. They found that PTSD is one of the most commonly reported mental health outcomes after natural disasters. To give an example: According to the APA report, nearly half of the residents of a Greek island experienced post-traumatic stress disorder within one month of being exposed to wildfires.

“With the raging fire in the rearview mirror, drive away from your home safely as soon as possible, not sure whether your home will survive, this is a very painful survival event. Then you find your home and all you have. His personal belongings and memories have been destroyed, and this is not just a devastating loss,” explains Andrea Dindinger, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Francisco.

She explained that climate-induced events can push the nervous system beyond its ability to regulate.

Andrea Tindinger, LMFT

With a raging fire in the rearview mirror, drive away from your home as quickly as possible as safely as possible, not sure whether your home will survive, this is a very painful survival event.

— Andrea Tindinger, LMFT

“For many people, the sympathetic nervous system will get stuck in the on position, leaving your body overstimulated, unable to calm and prepare to fight, escape or freeze,” she added.

To make matters worse, survivors of extreme weather events may not be able to receive treatment for PTSD. They may not have a home, a job, or the ability to pay for care. Therefore, although some people can recover from PTSD in just 6 months, Individuals affected by natural disasters may experience this condition for several years or more.

Calories contribute to mood disorders

The high temperatures caused by climate change are not just physical discomfort-they are also a source of psychological stress. More and more studies have found a link between high temperatures and disturbing mental health outcomes, including schizophrenia and vascular dementia.

“This is worrying because multiple studies have shown that elevated temperatures not only lead to mood changes and anxiety disorders, but also potential suicides,” said Reggie Ferreira, Ph.D., associate professor at the Tulane University School of Business. Director of Social Work and Projects at the University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy.

For example, the research cited in the APA report found that people use more emergency mental health services (such as attempted suicide) and the average temperature rises.

For many people, rising temperatures will also make it more difficult to reduce stress levels, which will further damage mental health.

“Extreme temperatures require patience and a person’s ability, not only to regulate body temperature, but also to regulate emotions. When body temperature cannot be regulated, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain mindfulness at this moment, and it will aggravate anxiety,” Dingdinger said.

In the long run, this may cause traditional coping strategies to become less effective and require individuals to find new ways to manage stress.

Climate change increases the risk of depression

According to the APA report, as climate change continues to affect our planet, we should see the degree of depression continue to rise. Its review of research shows that when people survive natural disasters, are exposed to urban pollution, or respond to unnecessary changes in the environment, the risk of depression is greater.

“In areas that have experienced extreme weather and climate change events, it is common for depression to increase. Extreme weather can cause other collateral damage, such as unemployment and reduced infrastructure, which can also increase the incidence of depression,” Mindpath Health Psychiatrist Julian Lagoy, MD, added.

Julian Lagoy, MD

Extreme weather can cause other collateral damage, such as unemployment and reduced infrastructure, which can also increase the incidence of depression.

— Julian Lagoy, MD

He continued: “Extreme weather will kill a lot of people. If you lose your family or someone very close to you, it will definitely increase your chances of depression.”

More importantly, there is some evidence that just reading information about climate change may lead to depression. This shows that as climate change continues and continues to be the focus of news reports, everyone (including those who do not think they are directly affected by global warming) may face mental health risks.

Resilience is a key mental health tool

“Improving awareness of mental health and resilience is essential to alleviate the impact of climate change on the mental health of the population. Cultivating adaptability, practicing self-care activities, and healthy lifestyle habits is to prepare yourself for difficult and unfavorable environments. The best way,” said Rawan Hamadeh, deputy project coordinator of the project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian relief organization that regularly works in communities affected by the climate crisis.

Her thoughts are consistent with APA’s conclusions, which believe that encouraging resilience is the key to reducing the risk of mental health problems caused by climate change. This may involve deepening social connections, fostering optimism, and adding personally meaningful items (such as spiritual tools and favorite foods) to disaster preparedness plans, among other strategies.

“Resilience teaches us to persevere in the face of pressure. It teaches us to control the situation, not just be affected by it. It gives us the strength to overcome,” Dr. Lagoy added.

If climate change is affecting your mental health, please consider seeking help from a professional therapist (if you are free). Dr. Ferreira pointed out that the disaster relief hotline (1-800-985-5990) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) are additional sources of support.

What this means to you

As climate change becomes more and more common in our lives, the rate of ecological anxiety is continuing to climb. But worries about the future are only the beginning of the impact of global warming on our mental health. A new report from the American Psychological Association found a link between climate change and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and severe mood disorders.

Experts say that building resilience will be an important way for individuals and communities to reduce the risk of mental health problems caused by climate change. Strategies include looking for optimism, deepening interpersonal relationships, and incorporating meaningful projects into emergency preparedness plans. Therapists and distress hotlines can also provide additional support to people in crisis.

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