As Climate Change Increases, Our Mental Health Declines

Climate change will increase the intensity and frequency of natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey. AMFPhotography / Shutterstock.com

Rosie McCall 09 Oct 2018, 17:53

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a Special Report on the effect of the world warming 1.5°C or more above pre-industrial levels. Their conclusion – to avoid climate change caused catastrophe, we must keep warming below the Paris agreement's 2°C target. Or, as Global Climate and Energy Lead Scientist at WWF Chris Weber told IFLScience: “1.5°C is the new 2°C."

There are many reasons why climate change is categorically bad, from sea level rises to food and water shortages to deathly heatwaves and more. Now, thanks to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we can add something else to the list: our mental health. 

Previous studies have linked natural disasters to PTSD and acute depression, shown that psychiatric hospital admissions increase during hotter weather, and found that heat and drought raise rates of suicide.

For this study, researchers examined the mental health records of 2 million randomly selected US citizens using data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System between 2002 and 2012, comparing the responses to meteorological and climatic data from the same period. 

Respondents were asked to answer the following: "Now thinking about your mental health, which includes stress, depression, and problems with emotions, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?" Responses were then split into two categories. One signified there had been mental health difficulties over the 30 days. Zero implied there had not. This vagueness meant the researchers could capture a wide range of mental health difficulties from the clinical to the unreported and the severe to the mild. 

So, what did they find? A clear correlation between climate change – higher temperatures, greater precipitation (in some regions), and natural disasters – and worsening mental health standards. 

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