Mental Health

The mental health impacts of climate change are likely to be gradual and cumulative. The connection between climate change and mental health may not always be clear, even to those who are affected. Each individual will react to climate change differently based on a variety of factors such as where he or she lives, occupation, and previous significant interactions with the environment.

Sense of Place

image of a group of people gathered at a park

Places are locations with which people and communities feel an especially strong relationship based on shared experience. Our ties to places—and the environments, traditions, and customs of those places— are very deep and are part of our own identity. The impacts of climate change will not be uniform, and some areas will be more severely and/or frequently impacted than others. Therefore, an individual’s place will be a key determinant of exposure to environmental changes or natural disasters.

Disasters and Mental Health

Negative mental health outcomes of disasters are not only attributable to exposure to the initial event. Many people who experience disaster struggle with displacement (temporary or long-term), unstable or unknown housing circumstances, difficulty finding temporary shelter, lack of access to support services, and loss of employment and possessions.

Most people who experience disaster are resilient, and basic support after an event will be sufficient to prevent negative mental health outcomes. However, stress, anxiety, or fear that lasts for several weeks or impacts an individual’s daily activities and quality of life may indicate that additional mental health resources and support are necessary.

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Loss

Climate change can contribute to several sources of loss that may include:

image of a bird
  • Loss of habitat for native species of plants and wildlife
  • Water shortage and drought
  • Loss of livelihood for those who have a career dependent on stable and expected climate conditions
  • Loss of property, pets, or possessions due to disaster
  • Loss of place due to forced migration or displacement due to disaster or loss of job

All of these losses can cause stress, sadness, anxiety, or depression amongst individuals or populations that are impacted.

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Populations at Risk

Individuals who may be at an increased risk of the mental health impacts of climate change include:

  • Persons with pre-existing mental illness such as psychosis, anxiety, or depression. Individuals with existing mental illness are particularly susceptible to additional mental illness, stress, and difficulty coping after a natural disaster.
  • Persons on low incomes. Socioeconomic disadvantage and unemployment are linked to poor mental health through increased exposure to psychosocial risk factors including reduced personal autonomy, negative self-perception, stress, insecurity, and social isolation.
  • Persons who have experienced disaster or live in disaster-prone areas. Responders who work during a disaster are a potentially vulnerable population as well.
  • Persons who rely on stable and predictable climate conditions for their livelihood.

No one is immune from the stress of drought, severe weather or disasters, or the changes to our environment that we are experiencing. Anyone can experience mental health impacts due to climate change.

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Mental Health, Climate Change and Public Health Training Module

cover of mental health module

MDH developed the Mental Health, Climate Change and Public Health training module as a part of a series of Climate Change Training Modules. This training module provides an overview of the observed climate changes in Minnesota, the public health issues related to climate change and mental health, and public health strategies for reducing the negative mental health impacts of climate change. This module can be used as an educational tool for interested persons or as a “train the trainer” module for local public health departments. The training has been fully scripted for that purpose.

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Additional Mental Health Resources

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Updated Monday, August 26, 2013 at 10:10AM