Mental Health and Climate Change | an explosive cocktail

Floods, droughts, heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes: extreme weather events kill. They also poison the mental health of thousands of us.

Posted at 2:00 pm

Felix Bherer-Magnan

Felix Bherer-Magnan
PhD student in political science, Université Laval

In fact, how can we rejoice when we see the damage to our home after a flood? How to be overwhelmed with happiness when your house is engulfed in flames due to wildfires like what happened in Lytton, British Columbia, last summer1 ? How to rejoice in a prolonged heat wave whose mercury remains above 30°C even at night?

These events will become “normal” and more frequent. Despite the relatively recent literature on this subject, climate change risks significantly affecting people’s physical and mental health, in addition to accelerating the development of various pathologies. The effects of climate change can be direct, indirect, short or long term. These events act as mechanisms similar to those of traumatic stress.two giving rise to already known psychopathological patterns. Therefore, climate change increases the probability of experiencing traumatic stress.

Furthermore, the impacts of exposure to extreme weather events may emerge late, promoting post-traumatic stress disorders and potentially being passed on to younger generations.

In other words, climate change is a real time bomb for the mental health of humanity, especially at a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people3 They live in areas that are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

silent crisis

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety and depression disorders increased by nearly 25% in the first year of the pandemic alone. However, mental health services have been greatly affected and the lack of treatment for mental disorders has worsened. The climate crisis is slowly approaching and unlikely to cause a similar impact as the COVID-19 pandemic, but mental health issues will emerge quietly and for a long time. It can be called a silent crisis. Again, we must be realistic: the number of people who will need help will skyrocket. Worse yet, the number of people crying out for help will exceed all expectations.

Furthermore, health services in Quebec, as elsewhere, are not adequately prepared to deal with this mental health crisis. In Canada and Quebec, for example, nearly one person in five4 suffers from mental disorders, according to recent data from the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ). However, mental health services in other parts of the world are far from equivalent to those offered here in Quebec and Canada. It must be said, it is a privilege to receive mental health care, although it is relatively difficult to access it. Furthermore, this difficulty of access is likely to exacerbate the crisis that awaits us.

Finally, the relationship between climatic events and mental disorders is broken down with the introduction of new terms, such as eco-anxiety, eco-blame, ecological grief and solastalgia.5. Many young adults have already experienced them. The Mouvement Santé Mentale Québec believes that most young adults6 of the province are already affected by eco-anxiety and its derivatives characterized by a feeling of anguish in the face of environmental problems related to the disruption of ecosystems. There is no doubt that this is a problem that adds to the many other public health problems, more insidious than ever.

The planet is sick; its people too. We can help or let die…

1. Zeidler, Maryse (July 5, 2021). “The fire that destroyed the town of Lytton is believed to be of human origin,” HERE Radio Canada

2. Cianconi Paolo, Betrò, Sophia and Janiri, Luigi (2020). “The impact of climate change on mental health: a systematic descriptive review”, Front. psychiatry 11:74 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00074

5. Cianconi Paolo, Betrò, Sophia and Janiri, Luigi (2020). “The impact of climate change on mental health: a systematic descriptive review”, Front. psychiatry 11:74. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00074

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