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Climate Change Can Impact Mental Health


While much of the focus regarding climate change has naturally focused on its environmental impact, some mental health experts are concerned about the effect it will have on those who have a mental illness. They also note that climate change will likely result in an increase in the overall burden of mental health conditions globally.

As researchers and scientists begin to gather at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen from December 7 to 18, mental health experts believe little to no attention will be given to the psychological consequences of global warming. According to a new study prepared by two mental health professionals at King’s College London, climate change has the potential to have a significantly negative impact on mental welfare around the world.

Dr. Lisa Page from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London and one of the study’s authors, notes that while the UN conference participants will discuss the effects of climate change and how various governments may respond, “we fear that the effects of climate change on mental health will be largely ignored, posing a tremendous risk to the mental health of millions of people in the not-too-distant future.”

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Dr. Page and Dr. Louise Howard, a coauthor of the study, offer several examples of ways climate change is likely to affect mental health. For example, an increase in natural disasters predicted to occur with climate change can lead to a rise in post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and somatoform disorders. As coastal regions become flooded, people will be forced to move, which can lead to more mental distress and illness.

Some scientists are predicting an increase in infectious disease outbreaks associated with climate change, which can cause psychological distress, anxiety, and traumatic stress. The authors also point out that when disasters strike, the needs of people who have chronic mental illness are often overlooked in favor of trauma-based psychological assistance.

The study’s authors urge climate change experts to consider the impact of the global environmental issues on mental health so that mental health policy makers can make plans to handle the increase in psychological problems that they expect.

King’s College London, news release Dec. 3, 2009