The Hand is one of the most reliable medical-scientific journals in the world. This week they published a new scientific report on health and climate change entitled “The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Health at the Meck of fossil fuels” (Romenello et al., 2022). In the report, the scientists say that due to human activities, the global temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees compared to the time before industrialization. While climate change is known to have catastrophic effects on natural systems (for example, rising temperatures in the Arctic destroys the ecological niches of polar bears and other species), the new Hand report highlights that climate change also has serious effects on human health.
1. As extreme heat waves become more common, mental and physical health suffers
Climate change has not only led to an increase in global average temperature, but the frequency of extreme heat waves has also increased. Heat waves have many negative effects on physical health, including kidney damage, increased risk of heatstroke, heart problems, and can cause problems during pregnancy.
Heat waves also have many negative effects on mental health. They can lead to sleep problems and reduce people’s ability to exercise. Deep sleep and exercise are important for maintaining good mental health. Additionally, heat waves limit your chances of hanging out and meeting other people, leading to increased loneliness, which can make depression worse. Drought can lead to drastic reductions in food production, which can lead to economic hardship for farmers and can worsen their mental health. Additionally, warmer temperatures have been shown to increase violence and conflict and even suicide.
2. Fires have negative effects on mental health
In addition to heat waves and the resulting drought, the likelihood of fires has increased dramatically. According to the report, the likelihood of being exposed to high fire hazard days increased in 61% of countries from 2001-2004 to 2018-2021. Fires have many direct and indirect negative effects on mental health. Experiencing the loss of property, or even loved ones, from a wildfire can lead to intense trauma and increase the likelihood of ailments such as PTSD or depression. Fires can also contribute to health problems, such as lung problems related to smoke inhalation. Larger burns can also lead to mental health problems.
3. Floods can be highly traumatizing
Fires aren’t the only extreme climatic events that threaten mental health. The report highlights July 2021 floods in Germany and other Northwestern European countries. Due to the heavy rains, the floods became so extreme that entire villages were destroyed. Over 200 people died. Experiencing such an event can lead to trauma, similar to fires. Additionally, when critical infrastructure for mental health support, such as psychotherapy studios and psychiatric hospitals, is destroyed by floods, patients’ mental health can deteriorate due to lack of adequate treatment.
4. Climate change threatens food security and can force people to migrate
Food insecurity, for example, due to drought, can also force people to migrate from their home country to another place with more food. This can have negative effects on mental health, as developed social structures are disrupted and people are separated from friends and family. This can be particularly difficult for older people, marginalized communities, and people with pre-existing mental health conditions.
5. Climate change anxiety is real
People can fear many different things, from spiders to blood, leaving the house or communicating with other people. The authors of the Hand The report highlights that, due to the increasingly common effects of the climate crisis, from fires to floods and droughts, anxiety about climate change and anxiety about the environment become increasingly common. Especially for young people, the thought that more extreme weather events, such as fires, will occur in the future can be an intense source of fear. Psychologists need to research these new types of anxiety problems and develop treatment options.
6. Action plans for the climate crisis must integrate mental health
The authors of the Hand The report highlights that, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of the negative mental health effects of the climate crisis, few national adaptation plans to tackle the climate crisis include specific solutions to mental health problems. Only 28% of countries include mental health in their action plans. Clearly, more needs to be done to combat the mental health crisis caused by the climate crisis.