Extreme weather phenomena, such as droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and floods, have a significant impact on the mental health of those who experience them. However, prolonged fear over the future of life on our planet might have a negative impact. In this Special Feature, we look not only at the direct effects of climate change on mental health but also at the importance of resilience and turning “eco-anxiety” into action.
As a result of climate change, severe weather events such as hurricanes are becoming more often.
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, global warming is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events like heatwaves, floods, and storms.
According to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, the number and intensity of heatwaves, torrential downpours, and major hurricanes have already increased. Climate change is expected to result in an additional 250,000 deaths each year between 2030 and 2050 due to malnutrition, diseases, diarrhea, and heat stress.
What does this signify for mental health?
According to one study, 25 to 50 percent of persons exposed to a natural disaster face mental health consequences. According to the same survey we can see how Climate Change affecting Mental health
The immediate consequences
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example, 49% of survivors acquired anxiety or mood problems. Furthermore, one in every six people acquired post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide and suicidal ideation more than doubled.
Following natural disasters, psychologists have observed an increase in what are known as distress reactions, which include behaviors such as:
Insomnia irritability increased substance abuse depression
While these emotions can subside and heal over time, this isn’t always the case, especially if the people who are directly affected don’t seek treatment or cope with their trauma. In such circumstances, more severe mental health consequences, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders, may occur.
This is especially true, according to Susan Clayton, professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, if persons already have a mental health condition or have been touched by a natural disaster several times.
The accumulative effects
Because climate change is creating subtle changes to our world, we are beginning to observe those gradual effects harming mental health over time.
One 2020 research found that: According to a reliable source, rising temperatures are associated with an increased chance of death from both unintentional and purposeful injuries, including suicide. Other research from 2017 reveals a link between high heat and an increase in irritation, aggression, and even violence.
According to a big 2019 study of adults in the United States and Denmark, there may also be a link between anxiety, schizophrenia, personality problems, and poor air quality. However, research into how air pollution affects mental health disorders is still ongoing.
Even if you are not personally touched, you may feel the consequences.
Simply watching the news or reading about climate change and natural disasters — or hearing from loved ones who have been affected by severe weather — can have an influence on your mental health.
In 2019, 66 percent of adults polled by the Yale Program on Climate Change expressed concern about climate change, a 10% rise from 2014.
“There’s definitely evidence that even those who haven’t had direct effects are starting to feel anxious,” Clayton adds.
Elissa Epel, vice-chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, and faculty head of the Climate Change and Mental Health Task Force, agrees.
Elissa Epel concurs. She is the vice-chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, as well as the faculty head of the Climate Change and Mental Health Task Force.
“Climate change is causing a generation of climate anguish and despondency,” Epel claims. She goes on to say that climate distress is a “complex aggregation of features of mental suffering, including depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.”
Some may be more affected than others.
When it comes to young people, the problem of climate change is especially concerning.
According to a 2018 study: According to Trusted Source, there is a correlation between climate change and an increased risk of youngsters acquiring mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and phobias.
“Our youth are already more emotionally exposed to news about situations over which we have no control,” Epel says. “Anything that sounds apocalyptic, the younger the child is, the more prone they are to feeling frightened by it because they are not emotionally prepared to deal with the weightiness and burden of the climate catastrophe.”
However, when young children grow into teenagers, their concern about climate change does not diminish.
People with chronic illnesses, as well as those most touched by climate change — such as those with lower socioeconomic status, migrants, refugees, first responders, and the homeless — are more prone to feel climate anxiety.
What can we do to deal with it?
Climate change is here to stay, and things are just going to get worse.
Consider September 2020, which will be the warmest September on record (as of April 2021). Epel observes that, in the future, September 2020 may appear relatively chilly as warm temperatures continue to smash records.
“That’s more realistic,” she argues, “but it’s quite severe, and people aren’t well prepared to deal with such a dangerous future.”
As a result, we strive to ignore it. We deny it until something pushes us to face it again. From horrific wildfires to more destructive hurricanes, these reminders are becoming more common and urgent. While you may not be able to stop climate change, you may take efforts to safeguard your mental health.
Recognize your emotions.
It’s normal to be concerned about how climate change may affect your life, your children’s lives, or the Earth as a whole. Don’t try to hide your emotions. Instead, speak with your friends and relatives. You might discover that they share many of your issues, which might make you feel less alone. “It’s vital to find other individuals who care,” Clayton says.
Make it clear to your children that it is acceptable for them to express their emotions.
Climate change news is difficult to avoid, so it’s critical to encourage children to talk about what they hear and see. Allow them to ask questions and give honest answers in a developmentally appropriate manner. “Parents and teachers may talk to them about the material in such a way that kids see hope and learn about all of the excellent change that is happening right now,” Epel says.
Looking for uplifting, age-appropriate news to share with your child? Yale Climate Connections provides some useful resources.
Create a safety strategy.
Climate change can make you feel helpless. Making yourself — and your family — a little more resilient and prepared is an excellent approach to reclaiming some of that power.
“You can try to regain control by doing something, like getting go-bags packed if you’re in a wildfire region so you can flee quickly,” Clayton says.
You can also prepare your automobile, create an emergency plan, and equip your home with emergency supplies such as fire extinguishers, water, flashlights, and a hand-crank radio.
Participate in your community.
A previous study conducted during hurricane season in Florida discovered that areas with a strong sense of community experienced reduced mental health problems after hurricanes.
If you don’t feel like you have a strong sense of community where you live, join a local group or organization, whether it’s a weekly workout group or a neighborhood buy-nothing group. Getting to know your neighbors can be as simple as that.
“Working at the local community level to assist improve community infrastructure or social infrastructure can be good in helping you feel in control,” Clayton explains. “Advocating for increased attention to climate change on a political level can also help.” It will benefit people since it will give them a sense of agency.”
Recognize your triggers.
“Worry is a habitual process,” says Michelle Newman, a psychology and psychiatry professor at Penn State. “And if you’re a worrisome person, you’ll look for things to worry about.” She advises learning to identify what causes such worries. Perhaps it’s images of hurricane-damaged homes or stories about wildlife affected by wildfires.
When you’re aware of what triggers you, you can cut off your anxiety when it’s not helpful by learning to avoid — or limit — your access to your triggers when it all becomes too much.
This could include reducing your news consumption or being honest with friends when they start talking about something upsetting.
Allow yourself rest periods to avoid burnout.
While being active in environmental concerns might be beneficial since it offers you some agency in the face of a massive threat, fatigue is not beneficial to anyone.
“Sometimes we all need to detach,” Clayton adds. “That could involve taking a deep breath or doing things that physiologically settle you down, such as going for a walk or getting out into nature,” she says.
Furthermore, she claims that “many roles can be a source of resilience.” So, if you’re doing your part to combat climate change, make sure you’re also spending time with your family, gardening, or participating in extracurricular activities.”
If you require mental health care, seek it.
If your climate anxiety or concern about the future is consuming you and interfering with your life, there is treatment available.
You can always consult a doctor or a mental health practitioner. or even a therapist.
There are also online clubs and courses, such as the one Epel and her colleagues are experimenting with. “It’s a class to assist people to deal with climate change,” she says.
You are not alone if the effects of climate change are having an impact on your mental health. Experts predict that this tendency will continue, but there are steps you can do to improve resilience and mental wellness even when it feels like you have no control.