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 Climate Change

Health
Published on: Feb. 23, 2022, 12:33 p.m.
The anxiety factor
  • Extreme weather events, such as heatwaves have a clear impact on the mental well-being of the people who experience them, Image: Pixabay

By Business India Editorial

The adverse effects of climate change on physical health have been fairly well documented but those on mental health, especially the persisting anxiety about the future of life on the planet, are much less researched but they are equally important and call for urgent attention.

Extreme weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and floods, have a clear impact on the mental well-being of the people who experience them. However, the persistent anxiety about the future of life on our planet can also take its toll.

Climate change has significant implications for the health and future of children and young people, yet they have little power to limit its harm, making them vulnerable to increased climate anxiety. Qualitative studies show climate anxiety is associated with perceptions of inadequate action by adults and governments, feelings of betrayal, abandonment and moral injury.

Climate change and inadequate governmental responses are associated with climate anxiety and distress in many children and young people globally. These psychological stressors threaten health and wellbeing, and could be construed as morally injurious and unjust. There is an urgent need for increases in both research and government responsiveness. 

In a recent survey of The Lancet, published in SSRN, over 45 per cent of people aged 16-25in 10 countries said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning, and many reported a high number of negative thoughts about climate change. Respondents rated the governmental response to climate change negatively and reported greater feelings of betrayal than of reassurance.

Young people may be particularly vulnerable to such feelings when they witness a lack of urgency by the world’s political leaders to address environmental dangers such as climate change, habitat loss, and species extinction.

One of the study’s authors, Caroline Hickman, PhD, from the University of Bath in the UK, is a psychotherapist specialising in eco-anxiety in children and young people.

“I’ve been listening for 10 years to children and young people telling me that they feel doomed, they feel abandoned, they feel betrayed,” she told a recent webinar about eco-anxiety organised by Public Policy Projects.

The increased frequency of extreme weather events, such as wildfires and floods, due to climate change is already impacting human health directly.

Climate change is likely to affect mental health not only through direct exposure to traumatic weather-related events but also indirectly through its knock-on effects, such as poverty, unemployment, and homelessness.

Researchers say that extreme weather events will have a disproportionately large influence on individuals who are already vulnerable, such as older people, those with preexisting mental health conditions, and the populations of low-income countries.

The American Psychiatric Association predicts that the mental health effects of climate change will range from mild stress to an uptick in psychiatric diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The APA also warns that some people may resort to high risk behaviours, such as increased alcohol intake, to cope with the psychological trauma due to the changing climate.


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