The impacts of climate change are familiar — more and more we see news about extreme weather events, droughts, water scarcity, wildfires, and flooding and their impacts on agriculture and human systems, particularly children and youth. The impact of these events on health and mental health is becoming clear. Living through an extreme weather event can be traumatizing. The destruction, loss, and displacement people experience can sometimes lead to an array of mental health problems, from anxiety and feelings of helplessness to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal thoughts.
WHO SUFFERS THE MOST?
People at the epicenter of these events suffer the greatest effects. Sixty-seven percent of individuals with direct exposure to the California Camp Fire of 2018 said they experienced trauma similar to PTSD, compared with 14 percent of those indirectly exposed. These effects can last for years, as reported by those who lived through Hurricane Katrina.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO HAVEN’T BEEN DIRECTLY AFFECTED?
Climate change is also having an impact on the mental health of people who haven’t personally experienced climate-related disasters: more than two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) have reported having at least some anxiety about climate change.
DOES AIR POLLUTION HAVE ANY IMPACT?
Yes, long-term exposure to air pollution has been associated with elevated anxiety levels and even an increase in suicides.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PEOPLE LOSE THEIR LIVELIHOODS?
Climate change also can raise stress and anxiety levels for people robbed of their economic livelihoods — as when farmers can no longer grow their crops because shifting weather patterns have led to frequent drought or flooding.