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Your Environment. Your Health.

Mental Health and Stress-Related Disorders

Climate and Human Health

Mental health disorders range from mild disorders, such as social phobias, to severe diseases including depression and suicidal ideation. Many mental health disorders can lead to other chronic diseases and death. Stress-related disorders result from abnormal responses to acute or prolonged anxiety, and can include obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental health tends to be a low research priority in public health and whose impacts on human and societal well being are often underestimated. Mental health concerns are among some of the most potentially devastating in terms of human suffering, and some of the most difficult to quantify and address. Climate change affects the psychological well being of a person indirectly, and can be some of the most devastating effects in terms of human suffering, and the most difficult to address and quantify. The severity of mental health impacts following extreme weather disaster depends on the degree to which there is sufficient coping and support capacity during and after the event. Extreme weather and other climate related events can have a variety of psychological impacts on communities and individuals, from acute traumatic stress to chronic mental disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep difficulties, social avoidance, irritability, and drug or alcohol abuse. Chronic mental disorders can also lead to additional negative health effects.

People standing knee deep in water

Health Impacts

  • Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding, create stress.  Prolonged exposure to stress can result in a decline in mental health.
  • Prolonged heat or cold events create chronic stress situations that can cause or exacerbate health problems, particularly in populations already suffering from mental health or stress-related disorders
  • Extreme weather events lead to damage or loss of property, death or injury of loved ones and can increase the incidence of mental health problems and stress-related disorders
  • Extreme weather events and sea-level rise cause the displacement of people, particularly already vulnerable members of society, increasing the risk of mental health and stress-related disorders

Mitigation and Adaptation

  • Strategies to better understand the gaps that currently exist in mental health infrastructure, resources, and services to ensure that adequate resources are allocated to enable services to prepare and deal with challenges associated with climate change
  • Help for individuals in identifying their mental health needs and increasing their awareness of resources within their communities
  • Eradicating the stigma attached with mental health so that individuals will seek mental health care services following extreme weather and other climate-related events 
  • While some adaptation strategies may prevent the displacement and migration of some communities, socioeconomically disadvantaged communities may not be able to effectively implement those strategies, threatening overall mental health and well-being

Research Needs

  • Understanding of how psychological stress acts synergistically with other forms of environmental exposures to cause adverse mental health effects
  • Developing mental health promotion and communication programs related to proposed climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies

 For more information, please visit the chapter on Mental Health and Stress-Related Disorders in A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change (Full Report) (4MB).

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