SWITZERLAND –Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being, and thus countries must make it a priority while taking efforts to tackle the climate crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
The findings concur with a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in February this year.
The report revealed that rapidly increasing climate change poses a rising threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being; from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behavior.
A 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries found that only 9 have thus far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans.
Environmental factors, such as air pollution and food insecurity, along with socioeconomic effects, like forced climate migration and environmental inequities, can all lead to increased levels of stress, trauma or grief linked to climate change.
The climate crisis may be linked to several mental health outcomes, such as climate change anxiety, ecological grief, and “solastalgia,” defined as distress from ecosystem losses caused by environmental change, the brief stated.
Climate-related mental health effects are likely to disproportionately impact vulnerable groups, depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, age, or history of other mental health conditions.
“The impacts of climate change are increasingly a part of our daily lives, and there is very little dedicated mental health support available for people and communities dealing with climate-related hazards and long-term risk,” Maria Neira, MD, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO.
However, it is clear that climate change affects many of the social determinants that are already leading to massive mental health burdens globally.
“The impact of climate change is compounding the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and mental health services globally,” said Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.
In the brief, the WHO outlined five recommendations for nations to improve their climate change mitigation and mental health interventions.
The new WHO policy brief group recommended both integrating climate considerations into mental health support programs and including psychological supports and concerns into nations’ climate action plans.
For example, interventions that increase walking and biking as active transportation could reduce pollution and are also likely to have positive impacts on mental and physical health.
Additionally, WHO’s recommendations included building on global commitments (such as those set in the Paris Agreement), implementing community-based interventions to address the climate crisis, and addressing gaps in funding both for the mental health and physical health impacts of climate change.
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