Global warming trends and changes in weather patterns have caused increased droughts, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, and other natural disasters across the globe. There’s more to climate change than just the weather, though. Recent research demonstrates a clear link between global warming and environmental racism, and studies confirm a definitive connection between climate change and mental health.
The simple truth is climate change is contributing to widespread psychological distress at an alarming rate. A review of more than 50 studies suggests that global warming might be contributing to an increase in death by suicide. It’s safe to say we now have a pretty concrete understanding of how much climate events can lead to increased and prolonged stress, depression, and anxiety.
Read on to learn more about what research says about climate change and mental health and to see what you can do about it.
The Aftermath of Events of Climate Change
We can’t reasonably deny that the world (and thus, the climate) is changing. Fears about an unpredictable future are causing anxiety, especially for people who find it challenging to adapt to the changing world they see.
A good example of climate change mental health issues can be found when we look at the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Survivors there experienced verifiable increased rates of:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Death by suicide
It wasn’t just Maria, either. Some survivors of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana developed what’s been coined as Katrina Brain, which causes cognitive impairment and short-term memory loss. The community has also experienced increased rates of anxiety and depression, and psychiatric helplines saw a 61% increase in calls in the months following the hurricane.
Worry & Anxiety for Natural Disasters
The growing number of natural disasters related to climate change is clearly fueling anxiety — and it’s not just scientists and experts who are concerned.
A study surveying young people between the ages of 16 – 25 found that almost 60% were “very worried” or “extremely worried” about the changing climate. A whopping 84% were at least “moderately worried.”
“Due to the unpredictability of natural disasters, there’s always some level of concern or worry. For some individuals, that worry and concern is exacerbated and becomes anxiety. Hypervigilance and over-preparedness are hallmark signs of these individuals. It’s normal to want to be prepared for natural disasters but being able to manage anxiety is important.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Sadness & Hopelessness About the Future of the Planet
Understandably, worry over the planet’s future can cause sadness and a sense of hopelessness. As more people begin realizing how climate change will affect them and their future, they ponder distressing things like:
- What will be left?
- What does the Earth have to look forward to?
- What can we do?
- Should we feel anything but sadness about the future of the planet?
- Should we be scared?
Where to go from here
Climate change is complex, tough to understand, and even harder to accept. However, focusing on solutions can help when climate change mental health anxiety creeps in.
There are many things you can do to make a difference. For example, you might decide to:
- Get involved with climate action
- Donate to charities and organizations that fight climate change
- Support legislation that aims to protect the environment and our planet
- Work with others who care about the planet
- Above all — stay positive
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless, it’s essential to remember that we all have a role to play in the future of our planet — and even small steps can make a difference.
The Impact on Climate Crisis Workers
Crisis workers are already at higher risk of experiencing mental health issues compared to the general population. The consequences can be profound for the brave individuals on the front lines as they deal with the aftermath of destruction.
“Like first responders, climate crisis workers struggle with various mental issues due to their work during and after a disaster. During, they often go into survival mode, “shutting down” to get the job done. They can be overworked as they help those affected by a disaster.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
The psychological and physiological impacts of climate change on crisis workers vary. They can depend on things such as geographic location, the crisis that occurred, length of time spent in an area, and specific work conditions.
“The constant interaction with tragedy can take a toll on mental health and stability. Crisis workers are more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD. Thus, it’s important to include some level of mental health care, both during and after a crisis.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
What we can do
To support climate crisis workers, we must recognize the importance of mental health in this sector by:
- Creating supportive environments so workers can talk about their experiences, concerns, and worries
- Training workers and volunteers in how to deal with trauma and stress, so they’re equipped — and prepared — to help others
- Donating food, water, and supplies to organizations and groups that intervene during natural disasters
Manage Your Mental Health with Talkspace
There are many ways we can prioritize mental health related to climate change. Whether you’re an activist, a crisis worker, or just someone affected by global warming, finding coping tools is critical if your mental health has been impacted.
There are many self-help and therapeutic tips on how to improve your mental health when climate change issues are causing stress.
If you’re having difficulty managing stress and anxiety about climate change, know that you’re not alone. Also, know that help is available. Talkspace provides online therapy and psychiatry that’s affordable and accessible, so you can get the help you need to cope with the stress you’re experiencing.
You can learn tools to manage your fears, live a peaceful life, and improve your emotional well-being. Connect with an experienced, licensed therapist today to get started on mental health support as you come to terms with your fears about climate change and mental health.
- Hwong AR, Wang M, Khan H, et al. Climate change and mental health research methods, gaps, and priorities: A scoping review. The Lancet Planetary Health. 2022;6(3). doi:10.1016/s2542-5196(22)00012-2. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(22)00012-2/fulltext. Accessed October 27, 2022.
- Cianconi P, Betrò S, Janiri L. The impact of climate change on Mental Health: A Systematic Descriptive Review. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2020;11. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00074. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00074/full. Accessed October 27, 2022.
- Abrams Z. Puerto Rico, two years after Maria. American Psychological Association. 2019;50(8):28. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/09/puerto-rico. Accessed October 27, 2022.
- Knox P. “Katrina brain”: The invisible long-term toll of megastorms | Climate and Agriculture in the Southeast. site.extension.uga.edu. Published October 12, 2017. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://site.extension.uga.edu/climate/2017/10/katrina-brain-the-invisible-long-term-toll-of-megastorms/
- Hickman C, Marks E, Pihkala P, et al. Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: A global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health. 2021;5(12). doi:10.1016/s2542-5196(21)00278-3. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(21)00278-3/fulltext. Accessed October 27, 2022.
- Beaglehole B, Mulder RT, Frampton CM, Boden JM, Newton-Howes G, Bell CJ. Psychological distress and psychiatric disorder after natural disasters: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2018;213(6):716-722. doi:10.1192/bjp.2018.210. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/psychological-distress-and-psychiatric-disorder-after-natural-disasters-systematic-review-and-metaanalysis/D84B03CEC50473E56938D2C09CD7464E. Accessed October 27, 2022.
- Spoorthy MS, Pratapa SK, Mahant S. Mental health problems faced by healthcare workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic–A Review. Asian Journal of Psychiatry. 2020;51:102119. doi:10.1016/j.ajp.2020.102119