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The impact of climate change on mental health and emotional wellbeing: current evidence and implications for policy and practice

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Climate change and mental health are two of the most significant and pressing challenges facing societies across the world. Yet, growing awareness of these global issues has not been met with sufficient action to mitigate their impacts. Mental illness – or the disabling effects of distress – already affects around a billion people globally, while the effects of climate change are increasingly apparent. Both of these issues are projected to increase and stand to affect many more people without sufficient action. Climate change has been recognised by governments, academics, advocacy groups and medical professions as a health emergency, though, to date, the focus has been largely on physical health. In contrast, mental illness, “the most neglected of all human health conditions”, and emotional wellbeing have been overlooked in their interplay with climate change. Policymakers stand to benefit from identifying the opportunity of potential common solutions, stemming from some common causes, to these two global challenges. Policymakers, health systems and communities have not yet recognised and responded to the threat that climate change poses to our mental health and health systems, and there is much to be gained by proactively building resilience in individuals, communities and health systems.

The literature shows that:

  • There is a clear relationship between increased temperatures and number of suicides;
  • There is clear evidence for severe distress following extreme weather events;
  • People who meet criteria for mental illness are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change on physical as well as mental health;
  • The climate crisis threatens to disrupt the provision of care for people with a mental illness diagnosis;
  • Climate change exacerbates mental distress, particularly among young people, even for individuals who are not directly affected (e.g. ‘eco-anxiety’).

These impacts:

  • Will get worse without meaningful interventions, driving and exacerbating health and social inequalities which themselves worsen mental health;
  • Are currently ‘hidden costs’, unaccounted for in policy and planning;
  • Are likely to be vastly underestimated as despite the serious effects, this has been a neglected area of research.
  • There are win-win opportunities (co-benefits) for improving mental health and emotional wellbeing associated with taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a warming climate.

 

Reference information

Source:

Grantham Institute, Briefing paper No 36, May 2021

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 25 2021   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Jun 25 2021

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