How Climate Change Affects Our Mental Health – and What to Do About It
We’ve talked often on this blog about the health impacts of climate change. Health professionals as well as government leaders are increasingly aware that carbon pollution exacerbates respiratory illnesses and vector-borne diseases – and they also know that we can save thousands of lives and millions of dollars by fighting climate change. But less well known is the toll climate change can take on the psychological health of Americans. A new report co-authored by psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren predicts a wide range of mental disorders resulting from extreme weather and other climate impacts.
As Climate Progress explains here, Van Susteren is already seeing evidence of this phenomenon. Some people react to the idea of climate change by denying it exists. Others acknowledge the problem but suffer feelings of anxiety and despair – what Van Susteren refers to as “pre-traumatic stress disorder.” Her findings reflect our own research into the psychological impacts of climate change. Fortunately, there are ways to cope, and one of the best remedies is taking action. Making changes to our own behavior, supporting local and national climate efforts, and speaking out for climate solutions can all help alleviate feelings of powerlessness. It’s also important to remember and share all the progress that we’ve already made and are continuing to make towards a positive future.
Van Susteren is taking matters into her own hands by helping organize the Moral Action on Climate rally at the National Mall in Washington D.C. this Thursday, September 24. Learn more here.
By Jeremy Deaton, contributor to Climate Progress
We spend vast amounts of time and personal energy trying to calculate the most urgent threats posed by climate change. Washington, D.C. psychiatrist and climate activist Lise Van Susteren, however, says the most insidious danger may already be upon us. She’s not talking about heat, drought, floods, severe storms, or rising seas. She’s focused on the psychological risks posed by global warming.
Van Susteren has co-authored a report on the psychological effects of climate change that predicts Americans will suffer “depressive and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, suicides, and widespread outbreaks of violence,” in the face of rising temperatures, extreme weather, and scarce resources. Van Susteren and her co-author Kevin Coyle write that counselors and first responders “are not even close to being prepared to handle the scale and intensity of impacts that will arise from the harsher conditions and disasters that global warming will unleash.”
There is currently no organized discipline for the study of the psychological risks of climate change, yet it is already taking a toll on many people who tackle this issue. Surprisingly susceptible are those who might seem to be immune.
“The climate deniers? I always say they‘re really too stressed to hear the truth,” said Van Susteren. “We see this kind of thing in my work all the time, where people who aren’t ready to hear the truth about something will simply say it doesn’t exist.”
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