A Suprising Link Between Climate Change and Mental Health
September 29, 2023

By Aarushi Ammavajjala, 2023 Future Blue Youth Council member

Featured Image: “Uncomfortable Truth” by Nicholas Son (California)

Climate change is a global issue that affects every part of our lives, from the environment to the economy. However, recent studies have revealed a surprising connection between climate change and mental health! As temperatures continue to rise, mental health around the United States declines.

NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found a clear relationship between temperature and mental health emergencies. As temperatures rise, particularly during heatwaves, the number of visits to emergency departments for mental health reasons also increases. “Hotter temperatures can significantly impact our emotional and psychological well-being, leading to a surge in mental health-related emergencies,” explains Dr. Sarah Thompson, a leading expert in climate-related mental health. This analysis was undertaken with California climate data, but across the United States, a disturbing correlation between high temperatures and suicide rates was revealed. In addition, according to the EPA’s “value of a statistical human life,” a combination of lost laborers, bereavement leave, and grief due to increased suicide rates causes a loss of productivity equal to $2-3 billion.

Along with the effects of increased heat waves, natural disasters and forced migration have a devastating effect on mental health.

Femkemilene, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some believe that increased heat affects neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to stress and discomfort, making individuals more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. Sleep disruption due to heat may be another cause for the correlation, as sleep deprivation is shown to increase anger, aggressiveness, and impulse control.

As climate change advances, it takes its toll on mental health, often manifesting as climate anxiety: distress about the impending future of our environment. It’s crucial to be aware of the effects of climate anxiety on mental health and to practice self-care. To combat feelings of hopelessness and empower yourself with a sense of agency, you can take action through online and physical protests, undertake simple advocacy efforts like writing letters to politicians or signing petitions, and remembering to take breaks and relax. One person did not create the problem of global warming, and one person isn’t responsible for fixing it.

A great way to combine advocacy with preserving mental health is to shine a light on positive climate news. “The climate problem is getting worse, but the solutions are getting better,” says Gregory Nemet, Lead Author of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. It’s easy to fall victim to climate doomism, where we ignore the positive climate action that has been taken. It takes a conscious effort to consider all facets of global warming and climate change, and spread positivity about all the amazing work that is currently being done to combat it. The founder of Bow Seat, Linda Cabot, used climate positivity as inspiration for the 2023 Ocean Awareness Contest theme: Climate Heroes in Action. Linda was enjoying a walk in nature, one of her favorite pastimes, and realized this positivity, appreciation, and reverence for our Earth was the message she wanted to spread – not just doom and gloom. The theme for this year is all about uplifting unsung heroes of climate change. Submissions are closed, but keep an eye out for this year’s winners!

Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The effects of climate change don’t stop at our environment. We not only inhabit the Earth, but rely on it to function. Climate anxiety, poor mental health, and doomism are all too common in this age of information. It is vital that we consider human health in all aspects when combating the effects of climate change, and continuously work to stop it. Play your part in the battle against climate change, and check out Bow Seat for more resources on climate anxiety and how to deal with it: Climate Anxiety Resources.

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A Suprising Link Between Climate Change and Mental Health

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