I’m so stressed! Climate Change and Mental Health

This week I will cover the section of the NIEH report relating to mental health and stress related disorders, and climate change. I must admit, before I read it and studied other sources about it, I was thinking that it was probably not a serious or widespread problem.

Well, I was wrong.

There are major stress related affects from climate change events, like natural disasters, from less obvious climate changes like increasing temperatures, which happen more slowly, and also from the threat of climate change itself.

Whichever aspect of climate change stressors, the impacts are more profound with people already experiencing mental illness, as well as for children and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. It is estimated that at least 26.2% of Americans are suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder (NIEH.) With climate change, the amount of support needed is greatly increased, and often the support systems and resources are already strained.th-1

Climate change related events, such as wildfires, floods and intense hurricanes can cause loss of loved ones, housing, employment, social displacement-both temporary and long term, social disruption, loss of ‘place,’ and community. In 2008, 147,722 people were killed worldwide by climatic events (NIEH.) Individuals have different responses to these things, but commonly, these are drivers for increased anxiety, insomnia, depression, anger and fear. There is also a rise in domestic violence, suicide, child abuse and alcoholism following these occurrences. (Fritze.)

The fear about the looming threat of climate change can led to hopelessness, anxiety, apathy and despair, which is one of the greatest challenges we face. Many people do not want to think about it, hear about it, or, of course, do anything about it. 67% of Americans think that environmental conditions are worsening; yet only 28% have made any major changes to combat it (Koger 1.) Some consider our environmental problems to be behavioral problems when you come down to it. That makes a lot of sense to me. If it is our behaviors that have created this, for the most part, it is our behavioral changes that can get us out of it-along with technology advancements and perhaps a new environmental paradigm that makes sustainability a priority for everyone.

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If I look at what the Minnesota Dept. of Health calls, Psychological First Aide: Safety, Calm and Comfort, Connectedness, Self-Empowerment and Hope (MN)- I think that cultivating those things in our day to day lives will go a long way to helping us deal with climate change stressors already happening and prepare for the future.

Which leads me to the Tip of the Week:

Look at your own stressors and see how you can create a greater sense of wellbeing. Are you connected to community? Do you turn off your electronic devices regularly? (That’s one of my favorites!) Do you do things that create peace and calm like being in nature, meditating, singing or anything that brings joy? These are so often said that they seem trite, but creating peace of mind, community and hope can go along way to a better world-whether we are experiencing direct effects from climate change or just the fear about it. So create a calmer world by bringing happiness and hope into your lives.

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Fritze, J Blashki, G Burke, S, Wiseman, J Hope, despair and transformation: Climate Change and the promotion of mental health and wellbeing International Journal of Mental Health Systems 2008 2:13 http://www.ijmhs.com/content/2/1/13

Kroger, S, Nann Winter, D The Psychology of Environmental Problems, 3rd ed. 2010 Psychology Press

Interagency Working group on Climate Change and Health 2010 A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/a_human_health_perspective_on_climate_change_full_report_508.pdf

Minnesota Climate and Health Program, Minnesota Department of Health 2013, Mental Health, Climate Change and Public Health Training Module http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/climatechange/mental.html