Climate change is a global challenge that is likely to affect mankind in substantial ways. Not only climate change is expected to affect physical health, but it is also likely to affect mental health. For example, increasing temperatures are likely to increase rates of aggression and violent suicides, while the increased frequency of disasters with climate change can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. Such changes can lead to physical illnesses, which secondarily would be associated with psychological distress.
HOW CAN THE CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECT MENTAL HEALTH?
Climate change refers to the disruption of our weather patterns, not just temperature increases. Some of these weather-related changes include increased floods and droughts, wildfires, intense storms, heat waves, and rising sea levels. These conditions have great environmental, social, agricultural, and economic effects and are ultimately harmful to our health and well-being. Climate change not only affects our physical health but can also harm our mental health and wellness.
A report was issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The report found that:
- Exposure to climate- and weather-related natural disasters can result in mental health consequences such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A significant proportion of people affected by those events develop chronic psychological dysfunction.
- Some people are at higher risk for mental health consequences from weather-related disasters. Among them are children, pregnant and postpartum women, people with pre-existing mental illness, people who are economically disadvantaged, those who are homeless and first responders to the disaster.
- Representations of climate change in the media and popular culture can also influence a person’s stress response and mental well-being.
- Extreme heat increases both physical and mental health problems in people with mental illness, raising the risk of disease and death. In part, that’s because many psychoactive prescription medications impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
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What needs to be done?
Since climate change is likely to impact human mental health in many ways, it is imperative that some steps are taken to either reduce the global warming with time or develop measures to deal with the challenges posed through adaptation. Countering the challenge of climate change requires inter-sectoral and international collaboration to implement policies for reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.
Developing countries like Pakistan needs to develop and articulate their policies toward challenging the impact of climate change. Each of the missions aims at slowing the process or reducing the impact of climate change. The effect of the implementation of these policies needs to be seen.
One way is the provision of adequate treatment facilities for managing mental health problems. This is especially required for natural disaster-related problems when the vulnerability to stress is acute. It is likely that the existing infrastructure of treatment might be compromised during the disaster situation. Such a time requires inputs and help from professionals from other regions.
Promoting positive mental health is another way to reduce psychological distress due to climate change. Human resilience and coping can reduce the effect of mental health stress due to climate change. Utilization of strategies like yoga can be an indigenous and acceptable way to deal with stress.
Another method to reduce suicide fatalities due to the consequences of climate change may include economic support for farmers. Creating co-operatives and protection of farmers from loans might reduce the suicide rates due to crop-failures. Furthermore, the provision of guaranteed income during the drought seasons might lead to less economic and psychological stress on farmers.
What can and needs to be done in response to climate change can have many viewpoints. It might be probably useful to choose the best from different solutions to provide a coherent, implementable, and effective response to the concerns raised by climate change. And the solutions would be best refined systematically over the course of time.
Climate change is likely to affect mental health in many ways. Droughts, floods, rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and other consequences of climate change can produce increasing psychological distress through many mediators. These mediators include economic strain, migration, lowering social capital, and traumatic events among others. Efforts to increase access to mental health services and attempts to reduce climate change with time would be appropriate responses to deal with the challenge of climate change in the time to come.