Climate change is impacting all aspects of health to the extent that some are declaring a health emergency. This declaration makes clear the implications of environmental changes on physical and mental health, with effects that are both direct and indirect. In 2016 the US Global Change Research Program released a report that examined the effects of climate change on health and included a chapter dedicated to mental health. This is notable because, as lead author Daniel Dodgen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response said, “ I think people realize that if you’re going to talk about health, you have to talk about mental health.”
Exposure to climate- and weather-related natural disasters can result in mental health consequences. Those who survive natural disasters are left dealing with profound loss and grief, which can take a significant psychological toll in the forms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of these people develop chronic psychological dysfunction. In Australia, research has been conducted on the effects of extreme weather events on farmers; the results have found that these farmers feel that their sense of place and identities are under threat. Furthermore, long-term environmental changes, such as desertification and rising sea levels are expected to result in large-scale displacement, a major risk factor for mental illness. It is estimated that the majority of people forced from their homes were displaced as a result of climate-related disasters, according to global statistics from 2017.
The depiction of climate change in popular culture and media can induce stress, as many are experiencing the existential dread of what the future holds in the face of a deteriorating planet. Young parents may feel pressured to instill the value of taking care of the environment while worrying about the future of the planet for their children.
Extreme heat increases physical and mental health problems in people with mental illness. Part of this is due to the fact that many medications prescribed for the treatment of mental illnesses impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature. It has been documented that an increase in hospital admissions for mental and behavioral disorders in Australia has been linked to higher temperatures.