When people talk about the effects of the climate crisis, mental health isn’t necessarily one of the first things that come to mind. Regardless of whether you believe climate change is a problem that the world can eventually solve or fail to address, the situation can cause severe anxiety. Climate change brings intersectional effects. It means that it impacts multiple domains beyond the environment, including the economy and your social world.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, 48% of Americans believe that climate change affects their mental health. The scale of the problem and the extent of its effects can lead people to think that the situation is hopeless.
However, you can arm yourself with information on how the climate crisis impacts mental health. By doing so, you can better prepare yourself psychologically. Moreover, you can spur greater action towards environmental protection.
Climate change is driving global warming. This phenomenon makes the world several degrees hotter in the next few decades. But we can prevent it if we take appropriate action. A few degrees doesn’t seem threatening. But note that this represents global average temperatures. While some areas will experience minimal heating, others might experience more severe heat waves.
Extreme heat is not only uncomfortable. It can increase the risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly are most at risk.
High temperatures can also have compounding effects on people with mental health issues. Aside from the added stress of coping with the heat, many common prescription medications impair the ability to regulate body temperature. People receiving psychoactive medications can be more sensitive to the impacts of heatwaves.
Impacts Of Severe Weather Events
The climate crisis is also making severe weather events more powerful and more frequent. For instance, storms derive their energy from warm oceans. Increased global temperatures mean that storms get more energy to fuel their growth. When hurricanes eventually reach land, they can exhibit higher wind speeds and dump larger amounts of rainfall. The effects can become catastrophic.
The possibility of being hit by severe weather events is already a source of anxiety for many people. Hurricane survivors can easily tell you how the disaster strikes physically and mentally. Despite taking all the precautions, the prospect of losing property and loved ones can reinforce feelings of hopelessness.
Trauma from climate-related disasters can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorders. Even after the trauma has passed, these disasters can have lasting effects. Some of these effects include loss of residence or livelihood. Unfortunately, a significant number of survivors develop chronic mental health conditions. The need for coping mechanisms can also drive people towards alcoholism and substance abuse.
Fear of Long-Term Uncertainty
Researchers are just beginning to understand the long-term effects of the climate crisis. The environment is a complex system composed of interconnected natural processes. Thus, it is exceedingly difficult to analyze precisely. However, most scientists forecast wide-ranging impacts on the environment, including both land and marine ecosystems.
Climate change can lead to new food and water insecurity levels. It can be threatening for the entire communities’ existence in the future. The proliferation of insects and other disease vectors can introduce novel illnesses in previously untouched communities. Extinction rates can rise, further contributing to an unhealthy environment.
The existential threats of the climate crisis are known. But researchers struggle to characterize them with precision. The lack of clarity can reinforce a hopeless mindset and intense pessimism towards the future. These can be symptoms of eco-anxiety, a phenomenon that more counselors are encountering in patients these days.
Unfortunately, the adverse effects of the climate crisis will not affect everyone equally. For instance, people with preexisting mental health conditions may find the burden of climate change too heavy to bear. Those who are economically disadvantaged may have fewer resources to manage climate impacts. Socially underprivileged populations, including ethnic and racial minorities, may not receive adequate support from society.
The inequity of climate change impacts underscores the need for climate justice. Without the necessary support systems, more people will suffer from mental health impacts.
Unfortunately, there is insufficient representation of mental health professionals in climate change research. Until fairly recently, most discussions about the climate were exclusive to climate scientists.
Now, more people are becoming aware of the intersectional impacts of the climate crisis. And with that, psychological aspects are now gaining prominence. Any climate mitigation plan should involve mechanisms for psychological evaluation and provision of mental health services.
Counselors can contribute to the discussion by being more aware of eco-anxiety and how it can manifest in their patients. Their evaluation tools should include a systematic methodology for understanding climate change impacts.
They should also be able to handle conversations on the environment and its connection to their patient’s mental state. Finally, they can raise awareness on the need for a psychological lens when climate change discussions arise.
The climate crisis has potentially severe impacts on psychological health. It is by no means inevitable. Climate mitigation actions in the present day can prevent much human suffering in the future. Counselors and other mental health professionals should now use the impacts of climate change as a rallying point towards greater climate action.