Rising greenhouse gases emission, unrestricted deforestation, livestock farming, and fossil fuel consumption has led to an increase in the global temperature. Newspapers are rife with headlines of nations facing frequent natural disasters such as cyclones and hurricanes, floods and droughts, wildfires, melting snow in the Arctic region and rising sea levels all over the world. Such extreme weather events have been linked to generating short and long term mental disorders which may cause impairment of one’s cognitive thinking, loss of feelings of wellness and various mood disorders. Climate change has been declared a health emergency in some countries.
Many geographies are at the constant threat of climatic upheaval. A region which faces frequent flooding or droughts leaves its population at a loss of livelihood, a sense of identity and reduced agricultural productivity. Damage to property, death of a caregiver, may mean a loss of the entire world to the victims. Children, elderly and people who are dependent on others are the most vulnerable group. Those who have been exposed to such natural disasters and have survived the calamities are prone to suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders which may result in depression and anxiety. Farmers whose livelihood depends on the annual produce and which gets destroyed by erratic weather events have been known to be the worst affected. Food insecurity and reduction in agricultural productivity result in poverty which further triggers violence. Sometimes, they do not have any other option but to leave from their home and migrate to other places. Migration may seem a natural phenomenon but it comes with a great cost. These outsiders, with no resources, and who have different culture and speak a different language, are seen mostly with suspicion and threat by the local community. All of this further add to a deterioration of their mental health.
For those of us who might have not faced such disasters ourselves but have been constantly exposed to such news are at risk of anxiety and depression too. In many of the developed nations, several surveys have revealed that the youth in their country feel that they may have to face climate change crisis in their lifetime. This has resulted in eco-anxiety. Some of us have sunk into this despair and have surrendered ourselves to the inevitable harrowing events which may or may not be in store in our future. Good news is that of those who were surveyed, there were a set of people who said that climate change motivates them to do their bit to reduce its impact. Climate activism has grown leaps and bounds in recent years. Youths have been regularly attending climate change protest rallies and even voices of young children like one that of Greta Thunberg can be heard frequently in international media.
Scientists suggest that the best way to improve mental health is to involve oneself in positive coping activities. Those who have faced such disasters and those who are at risk of facing it in the future should contribute in the climate change awareness activities, reduce greenhouse gases emissions, switch to cleaner energy and bring radical lifestyle changes. Also, for those who are at risk of migration due to natural disasters, should be provided with planned relocation of communities, public health education and should be given evidence-based psychological treatments. Tackling climate change impact on our mental health will require a collaborative effort from psychologists, environmentalists and government authorities.