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Your Environment. Your Health.

Mental Health and Well-being

Climate Change and Human Health

Young depressed asian woman standing alone near window in dark at evening time with low light environment, PTSD Mental health concept, Selective focus

Changes to our environment can affect everyday life, perceptions, and experiences of an individual or community. The effects of climate change on health can extend beyond physical injury, illness, or mortality to impact mental health and well-being. Extreme temperatures, weather events, and natural disasters can result in mental health outcomes ranging from stress to clinical conditions such as depression1, 2. In addition, people may also experience other mental health consequences of climate change such as eco-anxiety, the persistent concern over environmental disasters and the future of the planet.

Health Impacts

The effects of climate change on individual and societal health, mental health, and well-being are highly interdependent on exposure to social and environmental stressors.

At the center of the diagram are human figures representing adults, children, older adults, and people with disabilities. The left circle depicts climate impacts including air quality, wildfire , sea level rise and storm surge , heat, storms, and drought . The right circle shows the three interconnected health domains that will be affected by climate impacts—Medical and Physical Health, Mental Health, and Community Health
Impact of Climate Change on Physical, Mental, and Community Health. At the center of the diagram are human figures representing adults, children, older adults, and people with disabilities. The left circle depicts climate impacts including air quality, wildfire, sea level rise and storm surge, heat, storms, and drought. The right circle shows the three interconnected health domains that will be affected by climate impacts—Medical and Physical Health, Mental Health, and Community Health. (Figure source: adapted from Clayton et al. 2014) (Graphic courtesy of GlobalChange.gov)

Social stressors for an individual can range from a lack of access to employment or health care, to family and interpersonal issues. Social stressors can compound and lead to social instability and fragmentation at a community level. When social stressors are combined with environmental stressors, such as increased temperatures, extreme weather events, degraded air and water quality, or diminished food safety, they cumulate and interact to produce adverse mental health and well-being outcomes that can take the form of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and suicidality3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Individuals and communities in locations highly susceptible to climate change impacts are especially vulnerable to physical and mental health impacts8, 9.

Studies have shown that extreme weather and other climate-related events can have significant psychological impacts on individuals, leading to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep difficulties, social avoidance, irritability, and drug or alcohol abuse10. For example, in the aftermath of a highly destructive hurricane, symptoms of acute depression and PTSD can develop and contribute to displacement or loss of life, property, resources, and social support11. In extreme drought events, symptoms of depression or suicidality can be associated with a loss of identity and livelihood12. People displaced or forced to migrate from their homes because of climate-related events may also experience serious mental health consequences13.

Opportunities for Public Health Improvement

Improved mental health response and preparedness are important public health actions. Further, dismantling the stigma of mental health issues can encourage individuals, especially people who are at high risk, to seek treatment.

In addition, efforts that reduce exposure to social and environmental stressors can reduce the cumulative and interactive effects. These interventions can include increased resources for people or households experiencing poverty and increased efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Research Needs

Research is crucial to understand how psychological stress can interact with other environmental exposures to exacerbate adverse mental health consequences and other adverse health conditions. Better understanding is needed around mental health impacts related to concerns about climate change such as eco-anxiety and solastalgia, distress caused by the loss of a sense of home because of climate change effects.

Translation and implementation of research on climate change and mental health could help develop more effective mental health promotion and communication programs related to proposed climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

  1. Dodgen, D., D. Donato, N. Kelly, A. La Greca, J. Morganstein, J. Reser, J. Ruzek, S. Schweitzer, M.M. Shimamoto, K. Thigpen Tart, and R. Ursano, 2016: Ch. 8: Mental Health and Well-Being. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 217–246. [Full Text Dodgen, D., D. Donato, N. Kelly, A. La Greca, J. Morganstein, J. Reser, J. Ruzek, S. Schweitzer, M.M. Shimamoto, K. Thigpen Tart, and R. Ursano, 2016: Ch. 8: Mental Health and Well-Being. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 217–246.]
  2. Thompson, R., et al. Associations between high ambient temperatures and heat waves with mental health outcomes: a systematic review. Public Health 161 (2018): 171-191. [Abstract Thompson, R., et al. Associations between high ambient temperatures and heat waves with mental health outcomes: a systematic review. Public Health 161 (2018): 171-191.]
  3. Buthmann, Jessica, Ham J, Davey K, Finik J, Dana K, Pehme P, Zhang W, Glover V, Nomura Y. 2019. Infant temperament: repercussions of Superstorm Sandy-related maternal stress. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 50.1 (2019): 150-162. [Abstract Buthmann, Jessica, Ham J, Davey K, Finik J, Dana K, Pehme P, Zhang W, Glover V, Nomura Y. 2019. Infant temperament: repercussions of Superstorm Sandy-related maternal stress. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 50.1 (2019): 150-162.]
  4. Berry, Helen Louise, Kathryn Bowen, and Tord Kjellstrom. Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework. International Journal of Public Health 55.2 (2010): 123-132. [Abstract Berry, Helen Louise, Kathryn Bowen, and Tord Kjellstrom. Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework. International Journal of Public Health 55.2 (2010): 123-132.]
  5. Dodgen, D., D. Donato, N. Kelly, A. La Greca, J. Morganstein, J. Reser, J. Ruzek, S. Schweitzer, M.M. Shimamoto, K. Thigpen Tart, and R. Ursano, 2016: Ch. 8: Mental Health and Well-Being. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 217–246. [Full Text Dodgen, D., D. Donato, N. Kelly, A. La Greca, J. Morganstein, J. Reser, J. Ruzek, S. Schweitzer, M.M. Shimamoto, K. Thigpen Tart, and R. Ursano, 2016: Ch. 8: Mental Health and Well-Being. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 217–246.]
  6. Trombley, Janna, Stephanie Chalupka, and Laura Anderko. Climate change and mental health. AJN The American Journal of Nursing 117.4 (2017): 44-52 [Abstract Trombley, Janna, Stephanie Chalupka, and Laura Anderko. Climate change and mental health. AJN The American Journal of Nursing 117.4 (2017): 44-52]
  7. Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica. [Full Text Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.]
  8. Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica. [Full Text Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.]
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