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Climate Change & Mental Health

Earth Day is April 22nd and the theme this year is protecting our species. You might be wondering why we are writing about Earth Day and climate change on mindyourmind. After all isn’t mindyourmind just focused on mental health? Well, things aren’t that black and white! A healthy planet supports healthy people and vice versa. Mental health is impacted by the climate we live in and research backs this up.

The most obvious way the environment impacts our mental health is when we look at natural disasters. Given the destruction and life altering impacts of natural disasters it’s not surprising that rates of mental illness increase after the fact. For example, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, one in six survivors met the diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Additionally, rates suicide and suicidal thoughts doubled following the hurricane. Natural disasters are on the rise due to climate change so we can expect mental health issues to continue to rise.

That being said natural disasters aren’t the only source of climate related stress. Other more subtle climate events can make a big impact on our mental health as well. For example, the rising global temperature has been tied to an increase of people dying by suicide. Moreover, growing up in a region with polluted air makes you four times more likely to have depression by the time you’re 18, compared to those who lived in less polluted areas.

Many people believe that climate change impacts mental health because people are mourning ecosystems, species and ways of life they have come to expect, a term for this phenomenon has surfaced, Ecological Grief. The experience of Ecological Grief looks different for everyone as it depends on the region you live in and who connected you are with the natural world. For some people this grief can be brought on by melting ice and unpredictable weather and migration patterns. For others it could be to rising temperatures and droughts.

I wanted to bring attention to the relationship between mental health and climate change because I feel as though this is a neglected topic. Climate change will continue to play out in our world. We need to be adaptable and attuned to the impacts this will have on our mental health on an individual and societal level.

I know this topic can be very overwhelming, often people feel powerless and unsure of how to take action. Thankfully there are many things you can do to minimize your impact on the environment:

In addition to personal choices think about supporting Indigenous campaigns and movements, they are often leaders in conservation:

Finally, join a group that advocates for climate change action. A great example is the #FridaysForFuture Movement. Get involved!

Thinking about climate change can be scary and overwhelming but remember:

“In nature, nothing exists alone.” ~ Rachel Carson, 1962

Resources and Interesting Links: 

Check out The Nature Fix if you are interested in how nature (or lack thereof) impacts our mental health and brain development and brain chemistry.