• Mohit Chandak

Climate change and mental health


The impact of climate change is compounding the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and mental health services globally. There are nearly 1 billion people living with mental health conditions, yet in low- and middle-income countries, 3 out of 4 do not have access to needed services. A 2021 report from the Yale Program for Climate Communication found that an all-time record 70% of Americans are now very or somewhat worried about climate change, with a significant increase after a summer in which the U.S. faced an onslaught of heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes.


What to expect today:

  • WHO policy brief on mental health and climate change

  • Be kind to your mind


WHO policy brief on mental health and climate change

Image Source: Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being, concludes a new WHO policy brief, launched at the Stockholm+50 conference held in June 2022. The Organization is therefore urging countries to include mental health support in their response to the climate crisis, citing examples where a few pioneering countries have done this effectively. The findings concur with a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which revealed that rapidly increasing climate change poses a rising threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being; from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behavior.


Findings of the WHO survey


A 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries found that only 9 have thus far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans. The other findings are:

  • Approximately two thirds of surveyed countries (67%) have conducted a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment or are currently undertaking one

  • Over three quarters of surveyed countries (77%) have developed or are currently developing national health and climate change plans or strategies

  • Less than 40% of countries currently include weather and climate information in their health surveillance systems for climate sensitive diseases

  • Only one third of surveyed countries have climate-informed health early warning systems for heat-related illness (33%) or injury and mortality from extreme weather events (30%)


Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO’s climate lead, says “WHO’s Member States have made it very clear mental health is a priority for them. We are working closely with countries to protect people’s physical and mental health from climate threats.”


The Philippines has rebuilt and improved its mental health services after the impact of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. In India, where a national project has scaled up disaster risk reduction in the country while also preparing cities to respond to climate risks and address mental health and psychosocial needs.


WHO’s recommended approach to governments


The new WHO policy brief recommends 5 important approaches for governments to address the mental health impacts of climate change:

  • integrate climate considerations with mental health programmes

  • integrate mental health support with climate action

  • build upon global commitments

  • develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities; and

  • close the large funding gap that exists for mental health and psychosocial support


Be kind to your mind

Image Source: Walden University

Count Us In, the world's largest community of people and organizations taking practical action on climate change and the film Don't Look Up have collaborated to build a climate action platform. It was built for people who want to do something about the climate crisis, but aren’t quite sure where to start. They launched an initiative called “Be Kind To Your Mind” that lets a user check the impact of climate change on their mental health. The platform asks the users a few questions, after which it decides the impact of climate change on their health.

Tips & Benefits

Tips

  • Taking some important steps with others, such as joining a community, can help one to strengthen their mental health

  • Equally important is talking to someone about how you feel. Most people are worried about climate change, but they might not be talking about it, so breaking the silence will help you and others

  • If it’s difficult to talk to those around you, consider reaching out to new people in your community through initiatives like the Good Grief Network or Climate Cafes. Or ask your mental health professional to become climate aware or trained on the psychology of climate change

  • Consider other mental health activities that could help focus your mind, control your breathing and lower your heart rate, such as yoga, mindfulness, meditation and spending time in nature

Benefits

  • Negative emotions about climate change can impact your daily life and how you function

  • Improving your resilience with coping strategies can improve your mental health, wellbeing, and give you the strength needed to move forward

  • It could also connect you to like-minded people, who share your concerns, providing the social support to take action together

Resources

A 2021 report from the Yale Program for Climate Communication found that an all-time record 70% of Americans are now very or somewhat worried about climate change, with a significant increase after a summer in which the U.S. faced an onslaught of heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes. Here are seven resources to help navigate the emotional terrain of climate. Some of them can be taken up individually, while others are designed for groups.

Source: Don't Look Up, Time


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