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Investigating Climate Change and Mental Health

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A youth walks on dried mud on the banks of a river after the seasonal monsoon waters recede in Allahabad, India. Photo by Prabhat Kumar Verma / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images
  • Researchers explored the relationship between climate change and mental health in a major review of the literature.
  • The authors found a significant amount of research demonstrating how climate change poses risks to mental health.
  • However, they conclude that more research is needed to explore how to mitigate these risks.

A major literature review highlights the links researchers have found between climate change and mental health.

The criticism, which appears in the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health Research, shows that climate change is a major risk for people’s mental health.

However, most research on this topic has focused on generating information about the significance of these risks, but not on their mitigation..

The authors call for further research in this growing field, with particular emphasis on protecting people’s mental health from the threats posed by climate change.

The researchers argued that human-influenced climate change poses an existential threat to civilization, with many associated ecological, social, political, economic and health risks.

In terms of human health, there is a wealth of research exploring the adverse effects of climate change on physical health.

However, there have been fewer investigations into the effects of climate change on mental health.

Talk to Medical News TodayProfessor Tahseen Jafry, director of the Center for Climate Justice at the Caledonian University of Glasgow, Scotland, said this lack of research was particularly the case regarding the experience of people in low-income countries.

“Globally, very little research examines the impacts of climate change on mental health, especially in the poorest countries. “

“The lack of qualitative data regarding the realities on the ground and the lived experiences, especially in the poorest countries of the world, makes it one of the most prolific and least understood fields of study,” said the professor Jafry.

The review authors were particularly interested to see if they could link previous research to five research priorities for protecting health in the face of climate change, which the World Health Organization (WHO) identified in 2009.

The research priorities identified by WHO are:

  • assess the risks
  • identify the most effective interventions
  • guide health-promoting mitigation and adaptation decisions in other sectors
  • improve decision support
  • estimate the costs of protecting health from climate change

In their scoping review, the authors identified 120 articles published between 2001 and 2020 relating to climate change and mental health.

In their discussion of the results, Dr Fiona Charlson and her co-authors say that “[t]he literature consistently highlights the negative associations that climate change events have with the mental health of individuals and communities.

“Climate change events have been shown to be associated with psychological distress, worsening mental health (especially in people with pre-existing mental health issues), increased psychiatric hospitalizations, higher mortality in people with mental illness and increased suicide rates. “

Dr Charlson, associate professor at the Queensland Center of Mental Health Research and School of Public Health at the University of Queensland, Australia, said MNT:

“This review was really necessary to examine what we know about the impacts of climate change on mental health, which are expected to become significant over the next few decades.”

“There is still a lot we don’t know about the impacts of climate change on mental health. Research must accelerate and broaden its scope to uncover solution-based approaches to protect our mental health in the face of climate change, ”said Dr. Charlson.

In their study, Dr. Charlson and colleagues point out that while research in this area is increasing, its primary focus is on risks to people’s mental health and well-being.

Dr Charlson and colleagues argue that research focused on mitigating these risks is also needed.

Talk with MNTDr Gesche Huebner, lecturer on sustainable and healthy built environments at Bartlett, University College London, praised the study and noted that mental health does not generally receive the same level of attention as health physical. Dr Huebner was not involved in the study.

“The review is an important contribution to the research area of ​​climate change and mental health. It is very well executed, including recording the review, following a reporting guideline, and performing a quality assessment of the studies reviewed, ”said Dr. Huebner.

“As the authors point out, mental health is always second to physical health when it comes to discussing the impact of climate change.”

– Dr Huebner

“We need to be in a position to explain the costs that result from climate change impacting on health – to ensure that those impacts are focused on policymakers and authorities around the world.”

“To be able to do that, we need to do more research; as the authors point out, although this is a rapidly growing area of ​​research, it is still underdeveloped.

Dr Huebner recognized the need for more research on mitigating the effects of climate change on mental health. However, she also suggested that we still don’t fully understand the risks.

“We absolutely need to think more about how we intervene to protect mental health from the consequences of climate change. However, I also think that we need to do a lot of work to better understand the risks. “

“For example, a recent study showed that relative humidity and heat waves were associated with decreases and increases in suicide rates, and that women had a larger increase than men. “

“So there is clearly something important to understand about how different parts of the population and indeed different populations respond to extreme weather events,” said Dr Huebner.

Prof Jafry said that a more detailed database – encompassing both health and social justice issues – would be crucial in developing solutions to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis on mental health and well-being. to be people.

“The limited evidence base is a major obstacle to solving the problem. The lack of knowledge and evidence covers two areas: the health dataset and the social science justice dataset – explicitly, climate justice, human rights and inequalities. “

“These datasets need to be brought together to help us understand the size and scope of the problems and help develop solutions and the practical support needed by communities and individuals.”

“Current research in Malawi by the Center for Climate Justice at Caledonian University in Glasgow fills this data gap. Our field work with women in northern Malawi highlights areas of concern. “

“For example, extreme rainfall, flooding and food insecurity lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The work is also helping to shape the kind of support needed to recover from these climate-related impacts and build resilience to future climate-related challenges. ”

– Prof Jafry

Professor Jafry stressed that climate justice issues are at the heart of the climate crisis, saying: “There is no doubt that much more research needs to be done in the least developed countries; those who have contributed the least to climate change but who are bearing the brunt of the crisis.

“A burgeoning mental health crisis will exacerbate many of the problems already facing the poorest people who are least equipped to deal with them. This is not only unfair, but it infringes on their fundamental right to a decent quality of life.

“To draw the world’s attention to this program, research conducted at the Center for Climate Justice will be disseminated worldwide, including to the WHO, to give the whole subject much more visibility with a wide range of stakeholders to act, “said Professor Jafry concluded.