Climate Change

Climate Change and Mental Health

The UK is currently facing the most severe storms for thirty years, cutting off power to thousands, destroying homes and infrastructure and triggering the first use of a government danger of death warning from flying debris. Storms, floods, and unpredictable seasonal weather are all evidence of climate change in the UK, and these can have a significantly adverse effect on our mental health.

Climate Change and Mental Illness:

Climate change can be both a chronic and acute mental stressor. The constant (chronic) stress it can cause individuals stems from the existential threat of rising sea levels, more extreme temperatures, and the ultimate threat to earths habitability that these changes pose. This causes mental stress, recognised recently in a new set of terms including ‘ecoanxiety’, ‘Eco guilt’ and ‘ecological grief’[1][2]. Those who suffer from chronic mental strain due to environmental change do not necessarily live in places consistently affected by adverse weather, as it is the awareness of global changes that causes the chronic stress. 

Acute stress can occur for those who directly suffer from the results of climate change. This can come in the form of sudden natural changes, disasters and weather conditions but can also be long lasting concerns such as the threat to farming and agriculture. In the UK, flooding in particular is a recurring, often yearly event which has been shown to cause significant psychological distress, especially if the individual has to be evacuated from their home[3]. This is in line with research across the globe that shows that individuals that live in areas that experience regular adverse weather are more likely to develop mental illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety, and substance abuse issues[4].

Solutions:

Because of the sheer scale of climate change, we can feel it is out of our control and we are helpless to change it, causing feelings of apathy and subsequent mental illness. However, there are small steps we can all take to reduce its negative impact on our mental wellbeing:

  • Don’t feel guilty: Environmental concerns are valid and justified, and they are not going away so they need to be managed and overcome.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint: Making lifestyle changes such as driving and flying less helps the environment but also reduces your climate change stress and offers an outlet for the frustration you may feel.
  • Reach out to others: Environmental groups are places where you can share concerns and be part of bigger environmental projects; these can also be online communities and can overcome the sense of helplessness that climate change may be causing.
  • Mindfulness: Climate change can be overwhelming but practicing mindfulness, being present and breathing exercises can help[5].
  • Seek professional help if needed: There is an increasing professional awareness of these issues and in some places, you can access climate-aware therapy which is specifically designed to address your environmental concerns[6].

[1] Palinkas, L. A., & Wong, M. (2020). Global climate change and mental health. Current Opinion in Psychology32, 12-16.

[2] Cianconi, P., Betrò, S., & Janiri, L. (2020). The impact of climate change on mental health: a systematic descriptive review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 74.

[3] Trombley, J., Chalupka, S., & Anderko, L. (2017). Climate change and mental health. AJN The American Journal of Nursing117(4), 44-52.

[4] Cianconi, P., Betrò, S., & Janiri, L. (2020). The impact of climate change on mental health: a systematic descriptive review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 74.

[5] Panno, A., Giacomantonio, M., Carrus, G., Maricchiolo, F., Pirchio, S., & Mannetti, L. (2018). Mindfulness, Pro-environmental Behavior, and Belief in Climate Change: The Mediating Role of Social Dominance. Environment and Behavior50(8), 864–888. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916517718887

[6] Bednarek, S. (2019). Is there a therapy for climate-change anxiety. Therapy Today30(5), 36-39.

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