One of the most important issues our world currently faces is global warming. While there appears to be no shortage of research exploring the environmental effects of climate change, what about its psychological effects on people?
In a study discussed in detail here, researchers determined that the way people were affected mentally and emotionally by climate change depended on what type of particular concern they had regarding the environment.
Results showed that those who were most concerned about the planet’s plants and animals (biospheric concern) experienced more stress than those who were concerned about the environment’s effects on the individual as well as those whose concerns focused more on humanity in general.
In a wonderful article written by David Pollack, MD, a nationally known community-focused psychiatrist, he discusses various aspects of our changing climate and mental health including, but not limited to, the connection between climate change and an individual’s mental health, clinical areas to more fully understand and treat, and education and research goals.
In reference to climate and health connections, Dr. Pollack discusses the seriousness of global warming and how it directly affects the physical and mental health of individuals. He says:
They [health effects of climate change] encompass the creation, exacerbation, and complication of conditions involving almost all organ systems of humans and most other biological fauna and flora. The mental health consequences are also vast, pervasive, and likely to last longer than most other impacts on health. They require attention, understanding, education, and commitment from all of psychiatry (and other health and mental health professionals) to effectively identify, treat, and prevent.
Dr. Pollack goes on to discuss the need to understand the direct psychiatric impacts of air and water pollution, increased temperature, flooding, opportunistic and pandemic infections, nutritional deficiencies, stress, and other factors on persons with current psychiatric conditions. These connections are real. In one study, a significant increase in suicides related directly to temperature increases was noted.
We are already aware of the negative impacts on cognitive functioning from exposure to air pollution. In yet another study, higher rates of individual and group violence were associated with temperature increases. In addition, people taking most classes of psychiatric drugs are at greater risk of dehydration, hyperthermia, and heat stroke at higher temperatures. It is clear from this information that increased temperatures have a negative impact on those with mental health issues.
Regarding anxiety and trauma, Dr. Pollack says:
Anxiety and trauma symptoms/syndromes arise from rapid and extreme changes in one’s environment.…Many clinicians are reporting that their patients are worried about the future with particular emphasis on the geophysical and political environments. We are seeing a myriad of social, cultural, health, and economic consequences of mass migration stimulated, in part, by global environmental disruption.
This is all so disheartening to say the least. But these mental health issues revolving around climate change need to be discussed openly and acted upon so that something can be done to help future generations. Our children and our children’s children deserve no less.