How Can Climate Change Affect Mental Health?

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Years ago, climate scientists predicted the loss of sea ice, the rise in sea level, more intense heat waves and more frequent and devastating natural disasters. Today, we’re already seeing these predictions come true. But what about some of the lesser-known effects of climate change? As an aspiring psychologist, it might interest you to know that climate change can affect the mental health of your future clients.

Climate Change Causes Frequent, More Severe Natural Disasters

Scientific research has proven that a global temperature increase of just a couple of degrees causes natural disasters to occur more frequently and with greater severity. Among these climate change-induced disasters include:

  • Intense, prolonged heat waves
  • Droughts
  • Wildfires
  • Floods
  • Large storms, including hurricanes

From the Russian heat wave of 2010 to the more recent California drought, it’s now scientifically possible to link specific natural disasters to changes in global climate. And each time a natural disaster strikes, mental health professionals observe a lesser known phenomenon: The spike in mental health disorders caused by climate change-related events. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 50 percent or more of the population affected by natural disasters will develop “clinically significant distress or psychopathology.” This figure is based on studies of major natural disasters, like the Armenian earthquake, Hurricane Andrew and the mudslides in Mexico. Following a natural disaster, individuals can develop:

  • Major depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, individuals may display signs of trauma, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Flashbacks
  • Fear of a repeated event
  • Mood swings
  • Sleeping or eating issues
  • Withdrawn, avoidant personality or an increase in conflict
  • Physical symptoms (chest pain and headaches)

Climate Change Can Lead to Increased Physical Health Ailments

There is a vast body of research that evaluates how climate change can affect public health. Many of these health effects are already being documented around the world, such as increasing incidences in:

  • Infectious diseases (such as those spread by mosquitoes)
  • Diarrheal diseases (caused by contaminated water)
  • Heat stress (and subsequently, cardiovascular distress and renal diseases)
  • Type 2 diabetes (caused by the effects of heat on blood sugar regulation)
  • Allergies and asthma (triggered by air pollution)

All of these physical health ailments might seem unrelated to mental health. But as an aspiring psychologist, you probably already know that physical health and mental health are intricately linked. People who suffer from severe or chronic physical health problems are more likely to suffer a decline in quality of life and behavioral health. They are more susceptible to depression, anxiety and negative thought patterns.

Climate Change Can Lead to Increased Acts of Violence and Unrest

Psychologists often work with survivors of crime. These individuals suffer from a range of mental health issues, including depression and PTSD. It’s possible that psychologists will see increased numbers of crime survivors as a result of the changes brought on by a warming Earth. This is because global climate change, with its more intensive heat waves and droughts, can result in crop failures and food shortages. Climate change can also lead to economic downturns. Both of these consequences fuel spikes in crime rates.

When you enroll in Grand Canyon University, you can choose from a variety of modern degree programs in psychology and counseling. These include Bachelors of Science in Counseling, Psychology, Behavioral Health Science, and Sociology. Look for the Request More Information button at the top of the website to explore our available degrees and become acquainted with our Christian campus.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.