What is the Connection between Mental Health and Climate Change?

 “Connection between Mental Health and Climate Change”

Connection between Mental Health and Climate Change ichhori.com

Extreme weather events, droughts, flooding, and repercussions on agriculture and infrastructure are all common news stories concerning climate change's possible consequences. However, we may hear less about climate change's influence on health and mental health. Natural disasters are hazardous to one's physical and emotional wellbeing. Though the majority of people will survive in the end, many people who are affected by extreme weather events and slower-moving catastrophes such as droughts will face a variety of challenges. Mild stress and discomfort, high-risk coping behaviour such as increased alcohol consumption, and, on rare occasions, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress are among the mental health effects of events connected to a changing global climate. Job loss, forced migration, and a loss of social support and community resources are all possible effects of climate change, all of which can have severe mental health impacts. Furthermore, anticipating catastrophic weather occurrences and being concerned about climate change may be stressful.

Extreme weather changes and mental health

Extreme weather changes may create substantial worry and distress for many people, as well as lead to more serious mental health concerns. Climate change has been found to have varying effects on mental health. The phenomenology of climate change impacts varies greatly—some mental illnesses are more frequent, while others are more particular to unusual environmental circumstances. Furthermore, climate change has an impact on many demographic groups who are directly affected and more susceptible due to their geographical circumstances, as well as a lack of resources, awareness, and protection.

Acute experiences can trigger traumatic stress-like processes, resulting in well-understood psychopathological patterns. Furthermore, the effects of intense or prolonged weather-related events might be delayed, resulting in illnesses such as posttraumatic stress disorder, or even passed on to future generations. 

Heat waves and mental health

Severe heat and extreme precipitation have been linked to both direct and indirect health effects. In recent years, the health hazards posed by these variables have increased considerably. (Climate and Health Profile Report)

Heat waves are a series of high temperature spikes that last a few days and fall outside of a season's usual temperature range. Climate change is linked to this phenomena since its frequency and severity have risen. Physical and mental health, as well as human well-being and heat waves, appear to be closely linked. Heat stress, which is generated directly by heat waves, has been linked to mood disorders, anxiety, and other negative consequences. People with mental illness were three times more likely than those without mental illness to die as a result of a heat wave. Other than behavioural and motor difficulties and lower IQ, the effects on children and adults included diminished schooling and economic activities. Indeed, being exposed to excessive heat may cause physical and psychological exhaustion; there is a definite link between growing suicide rates and rising temperatures, particularly during the early summer ‘peak.'

Climate change is linked to Anxiety

Anxiety-related responses, as well as persistent and severe mental health issues, are caused by climate change and related calamities. Flooding and extended droughts have been linked to increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma and losses associated with a disaster, such as the loss of a house or employment, as well as being cut off from one's neighbourhood and community, can lead to depression and anxiety. Increases in aggressive behaviour and domestic violence have also been linked to extreme weather occurrences.

Vulnerability groups to Climate Change

Children, the elderly, the chronically ill, individuals with cognitive or mobility disabilities, pregnant and postpartum women, and those with mental illness are all more exposed to the potential effects of climate change. People with a lower socioeconomic level, migrants, refugees, and the homeless are also at risk. Extreme weather occurrences are more likely to influence people with mental health issues for a variety of reasons. Psychiatric medicines can impair a person's capacity to regulate heat and recognise when their body temperature is increasing, both of which are linked to injury and death. People with mental illnesses are more likely to be poor or have co-occurring drug use disorders, making it more difficult for them to cope with and adjust to change. Furthermore, people suffering from serious mental illness are more likely to be reliant on service, infrastructure, and medicine supply networks, which are frequently affected during disasters. 

Children are more vulnerable to disasters than adults, and they are more likely to experience long-term trauma-related symptoms as a result of the disaster. Children's discomfort is exacerbated by disruptions in routine, separation from caregivers as a result of evacuations or displacement, and parental stress following a disaster. Children are typically incredibly resilient, and while their emotions to catastrophes may fade with time, they should be monitored for long-term consequences of chronic stress caused by extreme weather events. 

First responders, emergency personnel, and others who are involved in responding to significant weather-related disasters are more likely to suffer from mental health problems in the short and long term. 3 These people may be both a responder and a victim, having to care for the public while also dealing with the effects of a disaster on their own family. Responders and emergency personnel are frequently injured or killed in the course of duty, which can exacerbate negative consequences.

Longer Term and Interconnected Effects

Many possible long-term effects of climate change, such as population migration, food shortages, job loss, and social isolation, have mental health implications. Since 2008, more than 20 million people have been forced to relocate due to weather-related disasters such as floods, storms, wildfires, or extreme heat. Many more are fleeing their homes as a result of slower-moving disasters like droughts and coastline erosion. (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)

Other effects of climate change, such as food scarcity or food quality concerns, possible increases in insect-borne illnesses (such as Lyme disease and malaria), and air pollution, can also have an influence on mental health.

Climate Change and Mental Health

Climate change's dangers and consequences on mental health are already rising, resulting in a slew of direct, indirect, and overriding repercussions that disproportionately harm the most vulnerable. Extreme weather events—which are more frequent, intense, and complex as a result of climate change—can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety, depression, complicated grief, survivor guilt, vicarious trauma, recovery fatigue, substance abuse, and suicide ideation, according to the growing research literature on climate change and mental health.

Incremental climate change, such as rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and episodic drought, can alter natural landscapes, disrupt food and water resources, alter agricultural conditions, alter land use and habitation, wreak havoc on infrastructure, cause financial and relationship stress, increase the risk of violence and aggression, and force entire communities to relocate. The overwhelming concerns of climate change can also induce despair and pessimism since measures to address the "wicked problem" of climate change appear ethereal or inconsequential in relation to the scope and severity of the threats.

Climate change has a range of direct, indirect, and underlying effects on mental health, disproportionately impacting the most underprivileged. This trend is expected to continue, but even when circumstances seem out of control, there are measures that can be taken to improve resilience and mental wellbeing. To deal with the problem of climate change in the future, efforts to expand access to mental health services and measures to mitigate climate change over time would be acceptable solutions.


  1. https://www.apha.org/~/media/files/pdf/topics/climate/climate_changes_mental_health.ashx

  2. https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/02/how-climate-change-affects-mental-health/

  3. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(20)30081-4/fulltext

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446935/

  5. https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13033-018-0210-6

  6. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/climate-change-and-mental-health-connections/affects-on-mental-health

  7. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00074/full

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