Potential mental health effects of climate change more relevant than ever

There are some potential mental health effects of climate change you need to know about, and if you’ve never thought about how environmental policies may affect you at different levels, now’s the time to expand your knowledge on the topic.

According to a recent report from the American Psychological Association (APA) and ecoAmerica,  climate change has the ability to not only increase interpersonal aggression, but also cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that’s not all.

But first, how serious is climate change?

Climate change might not be all “doom and gloom” on the level of Al Gore’s global warming movie predictions, but according to many scientists, it is happening all around us, and it could lead to major and violent natural occurrences (hurricanes, tornados, floods), as well as to an insidious change over many years.

Data from NASA’s Global Climate Change program shows many effects of climate change are the result of small variations in Earth’s orbit, but some changes are directly the result of mankind’s influence on the environment, including:

  • Rising global temperatures
  • Warming and rising oceans
  • Declining of Arctic ice
  • Decreased snow cover
  • Increased oceanic acidity

Global climate change is also a reason more extreme weather events are popping up around the globe, states NASA.

What are the consequences of these environmental changes? Among others, global climate change could lead to:

  • Food shortages
  • Mass migration
  • Water shortages
  • Spread of diseases

The mental health effects of climate change

With all these negative changes happening in the environment and their current and future consequences, almost every U.S. government administration in the last few decades has sought to make changes in regulations to slow down climate change — with one very recent exception.

President Barack Obama’s climate change policies were championed for their efforts toward a cleaner environment. President Donald Trump’s environmental policies, however –policies that reverse many from the Obama administration–may mean the mental health effects of climate change will continue to escalate.

In the APA’s report, the effects of climate change on mental health include:

  • Increased feeling of intense, negative emotions (primarily after catastrophic weather events)
  • Increased risk for PTSD
  • Increased risk of suicide ideation
  • Increased risk for anxiety
  • Increased risk for mood disorders, like depression
  • Loss of personal and professional identity
  • Loss of social support structures
  • Feeling a loss of control, helplessness, or fatalism
  • Increased levels of stress
  • Increased interpersonal aggression issues

All these effects of climate change can take a huge toll on an individual and may eventually lead to stress-related problems such as a weakened immune system, poor general health, or substance abuse.

Fighting climate change’s mental health effects

While we’ve yet to stop climate change in its tracks, there does seem to be a silver bullet when it comes to managing mental health burdens related to the environment.

Researchers in the APA report note building psychological resilience is the best way to ward off climate change mental health issues.

What’s more, one of the best ways to build resilience is through on- and offline social support (now we finally have a legitimate excuse to have Facebook up all the time).

This isn’t the first time social support has been positively associated with health.  The University of Rochester Medical Center shows social support can:

  • Increase lifespan
  • Promote faster physical healing
  • Decrease the risk for depression
  • Improve quality of life
  • Boost immunity
  • Lower stress levels

With all those benefits, it’s no wonder social networks are vital to fighting off the mental health effects of climate change.

Need a social boost?

Keep those social networks healthy by calling, texting, and speaking to friends and family regularly.

Make plans with people; get out more and socialize.

Oh, and don’t forget: You’re a part of someone’s social network, too. Make sure to be a good listener and to provide positive support whenever possible.

Hope Gillette
Hope Gillette

Hope Gillette is a journalist from New York. She specializes in research journalism and has an extensive background in Hispanic health writing. Hope is also a published novelist and award-winning author, as well as a mixed martial arts expert and fitness trainer.