In anticipation of the world climate change convention, researchers have summarized recent investigations on potential mental health impacts.
Although Dr Lisa Page and Dr Louise Howard from King’s College London do not believe their findings will garner serious attention at the UN conference in Copenhagen next week, their findings are important for health professionals and individuals with an existing mental health condition.
The two mental health experts conclude that climate change has the potential to have significant negative effects on global mental health. These effects will be felt most by those with pre-existing serious mental illness, but that there is also likely to be an increase in the overall burden of mental disorder worldwide.
The scientists urge for the lack of research into the mechanisms that cause the effects of climate change on mental disorder to be addressed, so that mental health policy makers can plan for the significant impacts of climate change on mental health that are to be expected.
The findings are in the current online edition of Psychological Medicine. Dr Page, lead author of the article and Clinical Lecturer in Liaison Psychiatry at the IoP, comments:
‘Climate change is assuming center stage with the upcoming UN conference in Copenhagen. While delegates will discuss the effects of climate change and possible responses by the international governments, we fear that the effects of climate change on mental health will be largely ignored, posing a tremendous risk to the mental health of millions of people in the not-too-distant future.’
Dr Page and Dr Howard identified the following ways in which climate change is likely to impact mental health:
- • Natural disasters, such as floods, cyclones and droughts, are predicted to increase as a consequence of climate change. Adverse psychiatric outcomes are well documented in the aftermaths of natural disasters and include post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and somatoform disorders.
- • The needs of people will chronic mental illness have often been overlooked following disaster in favor of trauma-focused psychological interventions and yet the mentally ill occupy multiply vulnerabilities for increased mortality and morbidity at such times.
- • As global temperatures increase, people with mental illness are particularly vulnerable to heat-related death. Contributing risk factors such as psychotropic medication, pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease and substance misuse, are all highly prevalent in people with serious mental illness. In addition, maladaptive coping mechanisms and poor quality housing are likely to further increase vulnerability, and death by suicide may also increase above a certain temperature threshold.
- • Adverse impacts such as psychological distress, anxiety and traumatic stress resulting from emerging infectious disease outbreaks are also likely to increase if the predicted outbreaks of serious infectious diseases become reality.
- • Coastal change and increased flooding is expected to lead to forced mass migration and displacement, which will undoubtedly lead to more mental illness in affected population.
- • Urbanization, a phenomenon which will be partially beneficial, for example by increasing opportunities for work and better access to health services, is associated with an increased incidence of schizophrenia in developed countries. In many low- and middle-income countries, mental health provision is already hugely inadequate and is unlikely to be prioritized should further economic collapse occur secondary to climate change.
- • The knowledge of man-made climate change could in itself have adverse effects on individual psychological well-being.
Source: King’s College London