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Mental Health and Wellbeing

Our mental health fundamentally influences how we think, feel, and behave. It shapes our overall well-being and quality of life. This manifests itself not only through illnesses like depression, addiction, PTSD, or schizophrenia but in more universal ways as well. Mental health is not merely the absence of mental disorders, it encompasses emotional resilience, self-esteem, the capacity to cope with stress, and the ability to live a happy and fulfilled life.

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Mental Health and Wellbeing and Climate  Change

How is mental health affected by climate change?

Image by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙

The widespread and diverse impacts of climate change are causing a similarly broad effect on our mental health. Climate change is an existential threat both to humans and the environment. The direct effects of climate change such as natural disasters,  flooding, drought, starvation and forced migration cause trauma and anguish in large groups of people. This may cause depression, PTSD, addiction and suicide. There are also indirect effects caused by our knowledge and understanding of the ecological and man-made disaster that is climate change. The last 10,000 years of human existence have been presided over by a stable and overall predictable climate that has allowed humans and animals to thrive. Climate change is upending this in large unpredictable ways. The knowledge and understanding of these changes combined with humanities lack of an adequate response leads to the phenomenon often referred to as “Climate Anxiety.” This can manifest itself through clinical diagnosis like anxiety and depression as well as decreasing everyday quality of life, increasing stress, burnout, feelings of helplessness and paralysis. Studies have shown that most of us feel this climate anxiety which becomes an underlying stress we deal with on a daily basis.

Which mental and emotional health illnesses worsen in these conditions?

Wildfires

While climate change increases rates of illnesses like anxiety and depression it can also

impact mental health in more surprising and insidious ways. Those with debilitating

mental health conditions such as severe addiction, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They are more likely to

experience homelessness and less likely to have access to air conditioning or other

ways of staying cool and safe during extreme heat. This puts them at increased risk for

heat stroke and death. In population studies extreme heat has even been associated

with increased aggressive behavior and domestic violence in the general populace.

What health impacts are seen when these conditions worsen?

As climate change impacts where and how we can grow food it is impacting the global food supply. This leads to famine and malnutrition. This directly impacts cognitive development and increases the rate of mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder and psychosis.

 

Increasing average global temperature expands the range of tropical diseases. This is especially true for diseases that use vectors like ticks, bats, snails, mosquitos, and deer. The list of illnesses affected is long and includes Lyme Disease, Malaria, Dengue, Japanese Encephalitis, Neurocysticercosis and Schistosomiasis. These illnesses can impact mental health through direct infection or inflammation of brain tissue.

 

The air pollution that is created when fossil fuels burn has been shown in numerous studies to cause vascular harm and increasing rates of atherosclerosis. This increases the rates of vascular dementia, heart attacks and strokes which directly impacts mental

health. Worsening physical health limits physical mobility, the ability to work and care for ourselves and loved ones causing secondary impacts on our mental wellbeing.

Image by Mitch

How do we build mental health resilience in humans?

Supportive Friend

The good new is the same strategies that have been developed over decades by

Mental health professionals are effective for illnesses caused by climate change.

Strategies like mindfulness, journaling, reframing, social support and exercise are

excellent coping mechanisms. Unfortunately we can also fall into unhealthy coping

mechanisms like substance abuse, avoidance, self harm and isolation. Staying

informed, engaging in policy advocacy, finding like-minded communities and living a

lifestyles consistent with your values are effective coping strategies. If you are struggling

and need help, seeking treatment from a mental health professional is the best next

step. Therapy and if indicated, pharmacologic treatment may be very helpful.

 

Becoming involved in working on solutions to climate change to feel part of the solution is a great way to help build resilience by working with a community who is working toward similar goals.  We all start small, maybe switching from plastic bottles to reusable bottles or planting a tree in the neighborhood to increase shade.  As we start to engage ourselves we lessen the hopelessness feeling, gaining joy and resilience.

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