Wellbeing & Climate Change
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. Read through our NEW Wellbeing Summary (PDF) for a closer look at the details.
How do disasters impact wellbeing?
Negative mental health outcomes of disasters are not only attributable to exposure to the initial event. Many people who experience a disaster struggle with longer-term consequences, including displacement (temporary or long-term), unstable or unknown housing circumstances, lack of access to support services, and loss of employment and possessions.
Most people who experience disasters 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.
Sense of Place
Climate is fundamental to our understanding of place. Places with changing seasons provide a signal for certain recreation and economic activities, such as the beginning and end of the ice fishing season, planting and harvesting times, and tourism to ski areas. Our attachment to places—the environments, traditions, and customs tied to these places—are very deep and part of our identity. Attachment to place is what makes environmental changes and natural disasters particularly distressing.
As climate change impacts traditional landscapes, communities, and places we call home, larger numbers of people are likely to experience the type of stress and negative emotions from a psychological phenomenon called ‘Solastalgia.’ Solastalgia is a newer concept developed to give greater meaning and clarity to environmentally-induced distress and is characterized by a sense of distress or emotional pain felt when the place of solace (or homeland) is diminished or destroyed.
Climate change can contribute to several sources of loss that may include:
- Loss of habitat for native 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 a disaster
- Loss of place due to forced migration or displacement due to a disaster or loss of job
All of these losses can cause stress, sadness, anxiety, or depression amongst individuals or populations that are impacted.
Each individual will react differently to climate change based on a variety of personal factors such as where they work and live, the influences of their community, and previous reactions with their environment. Some negative mental wellbeing outcomes include the following:
- Distress: Emotional reactions to direct or gradual impacts of climate change can include anxiety, depression, grief, helplessness, and resignation.
- Relationship Strain: Climate change has the potential to impact how individuals interact with each other and within their communities, resulting in a disrupted sense of belonging, increased violence and crime, and increased aggression and domestic abuse.
- Substance Abuse: Climate change can increase overall stress levels, which can lead to increases in high-risk coping behaviors, such as substance abuse.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Wellbeing impacts of climate change, especially from extreme weather events, can lead to serious mental health consequences, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Children: Children are at an increased risk for distress and anxiety in the aftermath of an extreme event.
- Women: Women have a higher prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health disorders after disasters than men.
- Elderly: Elderly tend to have higher rates of untreated depression and physical ailments that contribute to their overall vulnerability.
- Communities of Color, Immigrants, Limited English: Socioeconomic and educational factors, limited transportation, limited access to health education, and social isolation related to language may inhibit people's ability to prepare for and respond to climate related disasters.
- Homeless: A combination of risk factors make people who are experiencing homelessness more at risk to the negative impacts of climate change.
- Occupational Exposure: Healthcare and public safety workers are at anincreased risk for short-term and long-term mental health consqeuenses.
- LGBTQ+: Societal stigmitization, harassment, and abuse place this community at greater risk to the effects of climate change.
Health, Climate Change & Wellbeing Training Module
The MDH Climate & Health Program presented a Health, Climate Change & Wellbeing Training Webinar on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. As part of a seven-part series focused on health and climate change issues in Minnesota, the webinar and training module cover the observed climate changes in Minnesota, the public health issues related to climate change and wellbeing, and public health strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change to reduce the health impacts. The training module can be referenced as a general education tool or as a "train the trainer" module for local public health professionals.
NEW Missed the session? View the webinar recording above or download a copy of the 2017 Health, Climate Change, Wellbeing Training Slides (PPT).
- A Public Health Approach to Prevention of Behavioral Health Conditions, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Behavioral Health and Emergency Preparedness, Minnesota Department of Health Office of Emergency Preparedness
- Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series, SAMHSA
- Mental Health and Our Changing Climate (PDF), ecoAmerica
- Mental Health Promotion, Minnesota Department of Health
- Mental Wellbeing and Resilience Learning Community, Minnesota Department of Health
- Mental Wellness and Resilience, American Public Health Association