Points de vue sur la recherche : Incidence des changements climatiques sur la santé mentale et mesures à prendre pour faire face au problème

What you need to know

There is a lack of empirical evidence on the impacts of climate change to mental health. This may be due to the challenges of directly linking mental health outcomes to climate change consequences. Preliminary evidence shows that the risks and impacts of climate change on mental health are already accelerating, resulting in direct, indirect, and overarching effects that disproportionally affect populations already facing health inequities. To address the mental health consequences of climate change, coordinated and holistic actions are needed.

 

Research Viewpoints provide opinions from experts in the field of mental health and addictions and are based on commentary or editorials published in peer-reviewed journals.

This issue of Research Viewpoints is based on the article “Climate change and mental health: risks, impacts and priority actions,” which was published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems in 2018. DOI: 10.1186/s13033-018-0210-6

Read below or download the PDF

Background

The impacts of climate change on physical health and indirect health implications are well documented, such as increased extreme weather-related mortality and illness related to food and water safety and insecurity. However, there is a lack of research on the mental health consequences of climate change. The article highlighted provides an overview of the current state of evidence, projected climate change risks, and specific impacts on mental health. It also examined how the impacts affect certain populations more than others. Recommendations are provided to address the mental health consequences of climate change.

What ideas are the researchers presenting?

Climate change affects mental health in various ways and can result in mental problems, illness and psychosocial outcomes, specifically affecting those most marginalized. PTSD is often reported as one of the most severe mental health impacts related to acute climate change-related disasters. One of the most well documented climate hazards that indirectly influences mental health is drought. Indirect consequences also occur due to damages to physical and social infrastructure, physical health effects, food and water shortages, conflict, and displacement caused by climactic changes.

At the community level, the indirect mental health consequences of climate change are understudied, including the loss of community identity and an undermining of cultural integrity. These may occur if people are forced to move in and out of communities because of environmental stressors. Currently, studies focus on mental health outcomes of specific hazard events, positioning each hazard as an isolated incident unconnected to climate change. The benefits of understanding the links between climate change and mental health include:

  • enhanced knowledge of patterns of illness
  • raising attention of the global call to action to reduce and address climate change effects
  • in-depth knowledge of the disproportionate effects on marginalized communities
  • planning for mental health response and mental health systems resiliency.

How can this information be used?

Health practitioners can take concrete actions to efficiently and holistically address mental health and a changing climate. They can:

  • communicate about climate change and mental health in a way that helps people to see what is relevant to them
  • advocate and engage in efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of the health care sector
  • adapt measures to prepare for and respond to the psychosocial impacts of climate change.

These measures can include policies, practices, behavioral interventions, community-based interventions, specific training and prescribed medication. Some general approaches include primary care interventions, individual and group-based therapy, cognitive based interventions, and crisis counselling.

Actions to support mental health in a changing climate include:

  • policy responses to improve access and funding to mental health care
  • administering surveys that ask people about their mental health following extreme weather events
  • monitoring emergency department visits during heat waves and following extreme weather events
  • applying a stepped-care approach to mental health to support different levels of interventions depending on the timing of the disaster and the level of distress
  • using climate change adaptation/resilience planning in the mental health system
  • creating community-based interventions and climate change resilience plans that address psychosocial well-being
  • providing special training for care providers and first responders, including psychological first aid.

What future research is recommended?

Researchers should examine overarching psychosocial consequences, as the awareness of the threats, risks and impacts of climate change may affect emotional and social well-being. This awareness contributes to new phenomena such as:

  • “Ecoanxiety”, which refers to the anxiety people face from constantly being exposed to the threatening problems associated with a changing climate.
  • “Ecoparalysis”, which refers to the complex feelings of not being able to take effective action to lessen or avoid climate change risks.
  • “Solastalgia”, which refers to distress and isolation caused by the home environment no longer providing comfort or a feeling of safety.

About the researchers

Dr. Katie Hayes1, G. Blashki2, J. Wiseman3, S. Burke4 and L. Reifels5

  1. Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
  2. Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne, Carlton, VIC, Australia.
  3. Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne, Carlton, VIC, Australia.
  4. Australian Psychological Society, Level 11, 257 Collins St, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.
  5. Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Carlton, VIC, Australia.

Keywords

climate change; mental health; attribution; mitigation; adaptation

Acknowledgements

This knowledge exchange activity is supported by Evidence Exchange Network (EENet), which is part of the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - “CAMH”). EENet has been made possible through a financial contribution from the Ministry of Health (“MOH”). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of either MOH or of CAMH.