The Rarely-Mentioned Effects of the Climate Crisis on Mental Health

Most of us are very aware of the way climate change is impacting our way of life, but mostly in regard to the weather outside, changes in resource production, and political discourse. But, can the climate crisis affect us individually and emotionally too?

The climate crisis and other natural disasters can indeed contribute to a host of mental health disorders, commonly in the anxiety-related category of illness. Uncertainty about the future of the natural world can be quite emotionally taxing, as can feeling like these sorts of concerns are largely outside of your control.

Research also suggests that extreme weather, a common consequence of climate change, is sometimes linked to increased aggression and domestic violence. An unstable external atmosphere has the potential to cause problems in many ways – it may lead to lifestyle changes, event cancellations, destruction of property, loss of assets, and more.

After environmental disasters, we see time and time again the need for mental health services increases; after all, many individuals lose significant parts of their lives and may even be traumatized by the distress that comes along with it.  

However, there is typically a decrease in the availability of mental health services during these crises, which leaves people without the help they require. Fortunately, online providers, such as MyTherapist, make accessing mental health care easier than ever – anyone can attend from just about anywhere (as long as there’s a secure internet connection). 

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While treating existing mental health concerns related to climate change is important, so too is creating sustainable change that can prevent these sorts of issues in the future, or at least minimize their impact.

Who is impacted by climate change?

While the entire planet is undoubtedly impacted by the climate crisis, some people are more susceptible to immediate consequences than others.

The elderly, children, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses, the cognitively disabled, the physically handicapped, and people with mental illnesses are all more vulnerable and may have an especially hard time adapting to changes caused by climate change.

Additionally, those that come from lower socioeconomic classes, migrants, homeless people, and refugees are at an increased risk, especially when exposed to the elements without proper protection.

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Why are these populations more likely to experience consequences?

Those who experience mental health disorders can be affected by the climate crisis and all that comes with it more often than other people for a few reasons. 

Some of them are simply due to the physical impact extreme weather can have on an individual. For instance, some medications used to treat psychiatric conditions can inhibit a person’s heat regulation abilities, and if the person cannot perceive a large increase or decrease in body temperature, they can become seriously injured. 

Additionally, individuals with mental illnesses often depend on medical and government services, infrastructure, and medication supplies that can be impacted by severe weather and natural disasters.

In both the short and long term, emergency workers and first responders are also more prone to developing mental health concerns or mental illness. These individuals, after all, are trying to save others while they are suffering from the exact same natural disaster. 

Long-Term Consequences

The long-term effects of climate change include things such as food shortages, loss of employment, population shifting, and more. All of these have implications on mental health and can result in rapid decline in emotional functioning. 

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Every year since 2008, approximately 20 million people are required to move their residence due to natural disasters. Others choose to leave their homes due to more gradually-occurring events, such as erosion and drought. 

The long-term consequences for the planet itself can be fairly obvious (droughts, lower water levels, melting ice caps, deforestation, wildfires, hurricanes, etc.), but the consequences for individual people can be harder to spot.

Even if an individual isn’t directly impacted by natural disasters or extreme weather, living with a sense of uncertainty and concern for the basic existence of our planet in the future can be incredibly upsetting. 

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, mental health will likely continue to be at risk so long as environmental disasters cause havoc on the places we call home and threaten our livelihood.

Professional care from a licensed mental health professional can be beneficial when it comes to working through these tragedies and emotions, but so too can considering how you can reduce your personal impact on the planet or encourage others to do the same. 

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