Climate Change Already Having Significant Effects on Psyches

Rob Wipond
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An international, interdisciplinary team of researchers has published a 53-page report in The Lancet on the spreading health and mental health impacts of climate change.

With respect to psychological issues in particular, the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change summarized:

Climate change affects mental health through various pathways by inflicting natural disasters on human settlements and by causing anxiety-related responses, and later chronic and severe mental health disorders, and implications for mental health systems. These effects will fall disproportionately on individuals who are already vulnerable, especially for indigenous people and those living in low-resource settings. Additionally, individuals might feel a distressing sense of loss, known as solastalgia, that people experience when their land is damaged and they lose amenity and opportunity.

Elevated levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorders have been reported in populations who have experienced flooding and during slow-developing events such as prolonged droughts; impacts include chronic distress and increased incidence of suicide. Even in high-income regions where the humanitarian crisis might be less, the impact on the local economy, damaged homes, and economic losses can persist for years after natural disasters. Government and agencies now emphasise psychological and psychosocial interventions within disaster response and emergency management. Social adaptation processes can mediate public risk perceptions and understanding, psychological and social impacts, coping responses, and behavioural adaptation.

In an article about the topic and the report on ClimateProgress, a Columbia University psychiatrist said, “Right now, we are all living with the dread that something bad could come randomly, suddenly, or insidiously. We have many models for this kind of anxiety: things like living under a military dictatorship or with domestic violence, living with the risk of a cancer relapse or the outbreak of a disease like the Ebola virus, or living close to a nuclear reactor, a wildfire area, or, as in the case of Iceland, chronic volcanic activity. With chronic pre-traumatic anxiety, there are things you could do, but you feel powerless and there are forces defeating you. It causes helplessness, depression, and is more likely to pit people against each other than join them in common purpose.”

A Psychiatric Times article discussed the role of climate in affecting human psychological states in historical terms. “As historian Andrew Wear has noted, the Hippocratic tradition spoke of the soil and human beings in similar medical terms, understanding each to stand in a natural correspondence with one another, a correspondence that also implied a cause-and-effect relationship.”

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Watts, Nick, W Neil Adger, Paolo Agnolucci, Jason Blackstock, Peter Byass, Wenjia Cai, Sarah Chaytor, et al. “Health and Climate Change: Policy Responses to Protect Public Health.” The Lancet. Accessed July 1, 2015. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6. (Full text with registration)

The Hidden Mental Health Impacts Of Climate Change (ClimateProgress, June 23, 2015)

Can Climate Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health? A View From History (Psychiatric Times, June 23, 2015)

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Rob Wipond
Rob Wipond is a Victoria, British Columbia-based freelance journalist who has been writing on mental health issues for fifteen years. His research has particularly focused on the interfaces between psychiatry, the justice system, and civil rights. His articles have been nominated for three Canadian National Magazine Awards, six Western Magazine Awards, and four Jack Webster Awards for journalism. He can be contacted through his website.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I recently met two people who son, Zane, died in thier house when flooding of an unmarked landfill site released poisonous gas into thier house.

    Flooding is happening more due to climate change and more will happen.

    People living near landfill sites are at risk form poisonous gasses released if the site floods.

    This can be dealt with but only if the local and national governments admit there are risks and take preventative measures such as blocking access of gases into the house from underneath it.

    http://www.truthaboutzane.com/

  2. Do you think this psychiatrist is developing new syndromes for the next DSM>
    If so, what would so you suppose it will be called?
    Maybe an array of syndromes, from Dry Dread (draught) Syndrome II to Wet Flood Sundrome IV?
    I can see the ads on TV now?….”Parched”? “Full of Draught Dread?? Ask you doctor if you need wetzyntila, designed to dull this fear and lull you into happiness. Side effects include bhah, bhal, bluh, bluh ‘