A Threat to Public Health
Climate change is not solely an environmental issue. It also poses a threat to public health, negatively impacting people’s health and well-being. Climate change is linked to increased frequency of natural disasters, contributes to food insecurity and poor water and air quality, and can exacerbate the risks of vector-borne diseases. It also disproportionately impacts individuals who already face situations of vulnerability and can result in forced migration and civil conflict globally.
Despite what some say, the science is clear: climate change is happening—and human activities are the main driver. Collective action is needed to slow and respond to climate change.
Climate Change and Mental Health
Climate change can increase stress and anxiety, having a negative impact on one’s mental health. While everyone is at risk, children, the elderly, and those with close ties to the land are at increased risk for experiencing mental health problems as a result of climate change. Victims of natural disasters have increased rates of depression, suicide, PTSD, and anxiety. For example, after a severe drought in the 1980s, suicide rates doubled and more than 900 farmers in the Midwest committed suicide. People are not only impacted by experiencing the effects of climate change themselves, but pop-culture and media representation of climate change can also impact mental health.
The Impact of Disaster on Children
Over the past few decades, research has helped us develop a deeper understanding of the impact of natural disasters on children. While children are resilient, many still have significant reactions to the trauma that comes with experiencing a natural disaster. These reactions can be long-lasting. For example, half of children surveyed in the school year following Hurricane Katrina had clinically significant symptoms of depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.
When helping children in the aftermath of natural disasters, it’s important to acknowledge children’s distress, keep developmental stages in mind, use schools as a resource, be aware of ancillary consequences, and consider cultural differences.
What can you do?
- Support policies aimed at preventing climate change from worsening, like rules that limit greenhouse gas emissions.
- Invest in communities most impacted by climate change and value their opinions and experiences when making decisions regarding climate and health.
- Promote efforts aimed at helping those suffering due to natural disasters.
- Engage in research and advocacy to help connect the dots between climate change and adverse mental health outcomes.
- Help prevent long-term effects by helping individuals learn resilience and ways of coping in the face of uncertainty and trauma.