VOS: How Does Climate Change Affect Mental Health?

How Does Climate Change Affect Mental Health?

Emotional wellbeing

July 2023

How Does Climate Change Affect Mental Health?

Hello there, dear friends of the VOS community. It's great to have you here today. Let's talk about something you might not immediately connect with mental health: climate change. Yes, you read that right! Just as the health of our planet is vital, so too is our mental health, and believe it or not, they are intricately linked.

Climate change, characterized by phenomena such as hurricanes, forest fires, and intense heatwaves, is a global issue that reverberates through every aspect of our lives, including our mental health.

The Connection: Climate Change and Mental Health

Have you ever noticed how a gloomy day can sometimes make you feel a little down? Or how a string of very hot, stifling days can make you feel agitated or restless? That's a tiny window into how weather and environment can impact our feelings and behaviors. Now imagine these feelings on a larger, more prolonged scale.

Studies have connected climate change with extreme events and unearthed higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and even domestic violence among individuals affected by these events. However, the impact of climate change on mental health isn't confined to those directly experiencing such catastrophes.

Heat and Aggression: A Hot-Button Issue

Researchers using comprehensive daily crime data from Los Angeles discovered a compelling link between temperature and aggression. When the day's maximum temperature surpassed the 75-degree Fahrenheit mark, overall crime rates increased by 1.72% compared to cooler days.

The Rising Tide of Climate Change Anxiety

As the globe warms, our understanding of its psychological effects is evolving too. Terms like 'environmental grief', 'climate change worry', and 'climate anxiety' capture the spectrum of negative emotions tied to the changing climate. A 2021 study found that 59% of participants globally expressed significant worry about climate change, and a whopping 83% felt humanity had failed to care for the Earth. Clearly, the impact of climate change on mental health is far-reaching, regardless of whether you've directly experienced a climate-related catastrophe.

How To Manage Climate Change Anxiety

Climate anxiety is often marked by feelings of uncertainty and a lack of control. A powerful antidote to this can be taking positive action. Adjusting your lifestyle to align with your values can empower you. This could mean opting for less air travel, saving energy at home, talking with your surroundings to raise awareness about the topic etc. But also, don't forget to take care of yourself. Take regular breaks from news, focus only on what you can control and practise compation with people who are not that aware. If you experience strong anxiety or worries, it can be extremely healing to confide in trusted friends, engage with a therapist, or participate in a support group.

Check out the resources we used to learn more:

  • Heilmann, K., Kahn, M. E., & Tang, C. K. (2021). The urban crime and heat gradient in high and low poverty areas. Journal of Public Economics, 197, 104408. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpubeco.2021.104408
  • Clayton, S. (2020). Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change. Journal of anxiety disorders, 74, 102263. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102263
  • Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., ... & van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(12), e863-e873. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00278-3

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