Because mental health is a priority for action on climate change

The new WHO policy document highlights actions for countries

Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being, concludes a new WHO policy paper, launched today at the Stockholm + 50 conference. The Organization is therefore urging countries to include mental health support in their response to the climate crisis, citing examples where some pioneering countries have done so effectively.

The findings agree with a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in February of this year. The IPPC revealed that the rapid increase in climate change poses a growing threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being; from emotional stress to anxiety, depression, pain and suicidal behavior.

“The impacts of climate change are increasingly a part of our daily lives and there is very little dedicated mental health support available to people and communities dealing with climate-related and long-term risks,” said Dr. .ssa Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO.

The mental health impacts of climate change are unevenly distributed with some groups affected disproportionately depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender and age. However, it is clear that climate change affects many of the social determinants that are already leading to huge mental health burdens globally. A 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries found that only 9 have so far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans.

“The impact of climate change is exacerbating the already extremely difficult situation for mental health and mental health services globally. There are nearly 1 billion people living with mental health conditions, but in low- and middle-income countries, 3 out of 4 do not have access to the necessary services, “said Dévora. Kestel, Director of the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “By increasing mental health and psychosocial support in disaster risk reduction and climate action, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk.”

The new WHO policy paper recommends 5 important approaches for governments to address the mental health impacts of climate change:

  • integrate climate considerations with mental health programs;
  • integrate mental health support with climate action;
  • build on global commitments;
  • develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities; And
  • bridging the large funding gap that exists for mental health and psychosocial support.

“WHO member states have made it clear that mental health is a priority for them. We are working closely with countries to protect people’s physical and mental health from climate threats, ”said Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO Climate Officer and lead author of the IPCC.

There are some good examples of how this can be done, such as in the Philippines, which rebuilt and improved its mental health services following the impact of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, or in India, where a national project increased the risk reduction of disasters in the country while preparing cities to respond to climate risks and address mental health and psychosocial needs.

The Stockholm Conference commemorates the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and recognizes the importance of environmental determinants for physical and mental health.

Note to editors

WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which each individual realizes their potential, can cope with the stresses of life, can work in a productive and fruitful way and is able to make a contribution to their community”.

WHO defines mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) as “any type of local or external support that aims to protect or promote psychosocial well-being and / or prevent or treat mental disorders”.

For more information please contact:

WHO media inquiries: [email protected]

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