Does Climate Change Contribute to Depression, PTSD, and other Mental Health Problems?
Originally Posted April 4th, 2017
The American Psychological Association recently came out with a study suggesting that climate change is bad for our mental wellbeing, and can aid in developing mental illnesses such as depression and PTSD.
The study was paired with ecoamerica.org, a company that “builds institutional leadership, public support, and political will for climate solutions in the United States”, as well as with Climate for Health, a “national initiative led by a diverse network of health leaders from across the health sector representing key health care, public health, clinical, and medical institutions and associations”.
This isn’t the first time this thought has been addressed, and it won’t be the last time. “The mental health effects of climate change are gaining public attention,” says the study (page 21). “A 2016 government report (U.S. Global Change Research Program) reviewed a large body of research to summarize the current state of knowledge.”
This particular study separates the effects of climate change on mental health into two categories: acute impacts and chronic impacts.
The acute impacts are “immediate and severe psychological trauma,” according to the study. These would be things like how a climate change-induced disaster may immediately create a toll for those who got hurt because of the impacts, who’s loved ones or loved pets got harmed as a result, or even property damage.
Because of these immediate impacts, though “for most people, acute symptoms of trauma and shock are reduced after conditions of security have been restored,” illnesses such as PTSD and depression can develop. For instance, according to the study, one in six people who were affected by Hurricane Katrina (2005) have met the criteria needed to be diagnosed with PTSD.
The chronic impacts are sustained impacts such as the relationship between heat and aggression. “Lab-based experiments and eld-based surveys have demonstrated a causal relationship between heat and aggression,” says the study. “In other words, as the temperature goes up, so does aggression.”
The rising heat has also been thought to deteriorate social communities. Because being outside is uncomfortable in hot, sticky weather, people are more likely to stay indoors to be cool. The more this happens, the more anti-social the human race as a whole can become. A lack of social interaction has been shown to contribute to depression.
Are There Solutions?
Short of just solving negative climate change as a whole, there are some things that can be done.
The study suggests that mental health professionals become literate as to what’s going on with climate to better understand the impact it may have on their clients. Individuals who are not mental health professionals are encouraged to have a safety plan for if and when a major weather disaster happens, and to learn “resilience interventions” (pages 53-55) to help themselves out as much as they possibly can.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM. Find her on Twitter.