The climate is changing at an alarming and unprecedented rate that has caused visible impacts worldwide. The American Psychological Association identified that worry about climate change among the general population has increased. There are long-term incremental impacts of the changing climate that have been found to have impacted the environment, as well as caused psychological stressors. People across the nation and around the globe are impacted by climate change — ranging from threats to economic, physical, and mental health well-being.
Climate change refers to long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns. Below are recent facts related to climate change:
- Global Temperature keeps rising
- Oceanic temperatures keep rising
- Sea levels has risen for approximately eight inches in the last 100 years
- Ice sheets and snow covers are shrinking
- The number of extreme weather conditions has increased in the US
These changing weather conditions have been found to impact Earth’s ecosystem, immigration patterns, and the well-being of people across the globe. Examples include:
These climate changing events are detrimental to the environment, but also have related impacts on society, such as:
- Increased waterborne illnesses
- Less water for consumption and hygiene
- Disruptions in food distribution networks
- Community displacement or forced migration
Given the latter reason, the impacts of climate change on global mental health are at the center of modern psychological science spotlights.
- Climate Change & Mental Health
- Environmental disasters, such as floods and droughts, are likely to cause:
- Symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Phobia (intense fears)
- Physical pains and discomforts
- Loss of control
- Loss of Personal identity
- Feelings of helplessness
- Substance use
To cope, people affected by natural disasters and climate-change related events may engage in unhealthy strategies, such as substance use, which may only worsen the symptoms in the long term and increase chances of new health risks. Highlighting the fears about the future, “eco-anxiety” has been identified as the symptoms shared by people affected by natural disasters. These symptoms include intense fears, panic, and frustrations or feeling hopeless about the future of the earth’s stability and limited course of action taken so far to reduce climate change.
Ways to cope
Mindfulness strategies, such as meditation and breathing exercises, have been shown to be effective in coping with disaster-related stress. Mindfulness strategies can be done while working on the activities to reduce the risk of climate change, such as through upcycling, planting, and gardening. Below are other practical and easy tips to consider:
- Join an eco-friendly exercise group or e-group
- Find online groups to learn about what people in your community are doing to help and cope
- Grow a mini garden in your home or patio
- Talk to a professional care provider if your symptoms worsen
Identifying a network of people that share your vision may be one powerful way to start making a positive change and helping you relieve these symptoms.
Making a Difference
Encouraging the development of more green spaces within our community can improve mental health while also improving our environment. For example, planting trees and designating green spaces throughout our community can help improve air quality while providing areas for others to spend time outdoors. A reduction in stress levels and a decrease in stress-related illnesses have been associated with spending more time in nature.
Mental Health Resources
If you or a loved one feel affected by mental health-related outcomes due to climate change or extreme weather events (or any other reason), it is encouraged that you seek help from a mental health provider. You can reach out to the resources below for help or to learn more about mental health interventions for climate-related stressors.
National Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990 OR dial 211 to find local mental health resources in Texas
Texas Tropical Behavioral Health Crisis Hotline: 1-877-289-7199
Lifeline prevention number: 9-8-8
Climate Change Groups
USCAN (US Climate Action Network): usclimatenetwork.org/member-organizations
Climate Group: theclimategroup.org/
Save RGV: savergv.org/about-us
American Forests (RGV): americanforests.org/project/climate-smart-reforestation-in-the-rio-grande-valley/
(Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Amanda Palomin, Andy Torres, Frances Morales, Josue Cerroblanco, Marcos Valdez, and Cassandra Arteaga)