By Lily Marino
While climate change is predominantly regarded as an issue of the environment, trends over recent years have begun to show the rise of another substantial issue. The increasing materialization of natural disasters and global warming has manifested as stress within the minds of communities.
Increased exposure to heat, whether due to a heat wave or a changing landscape, has aggravated the rates of aggression and anxiety-related disorders. Droughts and flooding have become more and more frequent in specific sections of the U.S. in particular, leaving communities struggling to adapt. Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures, coupled with physical exhaustion, has shown to increase levels of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and even suicide rates globally since the year 2015 (Padhy, 2018). This trend has been observed most heavily in the workplace, especially when manual labor is involved.
While there is a strong physical component to the mental illness associated with climate change, those who aren’t directly affected are also experiencing increased anxiety. The magnitude of the problem, coupled with a lack of open communication by national leaders, has been shown to take a toll. When one represses these feelings, they become increasingly prone to psychological damage (Cimons, 2014). The uncertainty and unpredictability has caused an increase of displacement issues, particularly in the case of sudden natural disasters.
While events such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Japan tsunami leave masses of people homeless, less publicized events have caused new migration patterns to form. For example, the Inuit of Newfoundland have found themselves without a home and very limited access to resources due to thinning ice. No longer able to drive snowmobiles between bodies of water, the Inuit have shown increased levels of anxiety and depression, based off of conducted case studies (Cimons, 2014). Due to it being such an isolated population, many of the signs of depression were not recognized until a professional team visited and interviewed a representative sample of the Inuit population. The same trend has followed with populations of farmers. As our precipitation systems are creating exponentially frequent pockets of drought or flooding, certain agricultural regions are unable to be sustained. As a massive amount of farmers lose both their homes and their professions to debt trap, countries such as Australia and India are seeing increases in the suicide rates of farmers (Padhy, 2018).
So what can be done? Unlike the main factors of climate change, there is no definitive answer as to how severe or widespread the situation is. What it comes down to is a dialogue between the general population and those who have information about climate change. When agricultural aid, natural disasters knowledge, and relief efforts are not made available to the public in a clear and concise way, the assumptions and fears that are made can overtake the mental health of individuals, just as any other global issue would.
This mainly affects populations in rural areas, where those who may be affected by climate change may not have access to the information needed to combat this change. Farmers, for example, have been left in the dark on how to adapt their crops due to drought. In lower-income agricultural regions, the farms have no choice but to abandon their crops once they start to fail. This is an administrative problem, and can be combated at the national level, by the dispersal of both climate resources and healthcare professionals being made more available to rural populations, in order to avoid displacement, and the evident psychological damage that it can bring (Padhy, 2018).
Cimons, M. (2014). Climate Anxiety Tightens Its Grip. Corporate Knights, 13(3), 67-68. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43242932
Padhy, Susanta Kumar et al. “Mental Health Effects of Climate Change.” Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 19.1 (2015): 3–7. PMC. Web. 26 Sept. 2018.