CLIMATE CHANGE AND MENTAL HEALTH: SIMPLIFIED WEBINAR NOTES AND REFERENCES
This month’s Mental Health for All Webinar covered the complex topic of Climate Change and Mental Health: impact, prevention, integrated action during disasters and research opportunities for academics.
Chair Wendy Ager, who is Editor-in-Chief of the Intervention Journal of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Conflict-Affected Areas, introduced the important work of the Intervention Journal and highlighted the urgency of this month’s theme.
“I don’t think I need to convince you that climate change is the greatest health threat facing the world in the 21st century as our editorial explains on this topic.” – Wendy said.
“The evidence suggests that exposure to more frequent and intense extreme weather events and the chronic and slow-onset impacts of climate change have very detrimental impacts on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing both on individuals and communities.” – she added.
The panel was: WHO’S Technical Officer Dr Brandon Gray, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Dr Lennart Reifels, Assistant Professor at the McGill School of Population and Global Health, Dr Jura Augustinavicius and YAKKUM humanitarian worker Jessica Novia.
Jessica Novia spoke about how YAKKUM is approaching the issue of climate change and mental health in Indonesia, she discussed YAKKUM’s focus on local action during disasters and concluded by urging people to focus on community-driven action.
According to Novia, climate change affects the level of disaster threat and can induce hydrometeorological disasters, accounting for up to 80% of disaster events in Indonesia.
For that reason, in Indonesia, service is dominated by events such as floods, extreme weather, droughts and landslides which have an impact on people’s lives and mental health.
In the context of an unstable economy, people who experience disasters might have difficulties sleeping in addition to struggling to interact with others due to low self-confidence which could also lead to an increased potential for sexual and gender-based violence either during the disasters or in the aftermath.
Speaking about the impacts of climate change on mental health and wellbeing, Lennart Reifels referred to the direct impact climate change has on societies’ livelihoods as well as the broader health and mental wellbeing.
Reifels mentioned the IPCC’s indicators showing rising global temperatures, more frequent and intense climatic events such as cyclones, floods, droughts and wildfires as well as longer-term environmental changes such as the sea-level rise and blend aridification. He added the issue of the global gap in appropriate access to mental health support which results in climate change acting as an amplifier of existing mental health risks, particularly amongst the elderly, young people and people with pre-existing conditions.
The panellist also referred to the importance of learning from initiatives like YAKKUM’s which are culturally appropriate and locally focused. He added that image PSS frameworks, approaches and interventions that have already been applied should be a starting point.
Since there are a number of initiatives already in place in terms of climate change, we need to learn from those. “No need to reinvent the wheel or start entirely from scratch” – Lennart said.
Brandon Gray of WHO mentioned that the impacts of mental health in the context of climate change are what interests and motivates WHO. Gray added that social and environmental factors can determine people’s mental health (housing, occupation, security, etc) and increase mental health problems worldwide.
“When people have good mental health and wellbeing, they are more likely to be more resilient and more able to participate and engage in what is meaningful”, Gray said.
Gray added that the examples given in the special section on the Intervention Journal raise awareness and can inform and inspire climate action since the climate crisis is continual.
- The first-ever mention of mental health as an indicator only happened in 2021 on the Lancet countdown for climate change and health report: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2821%2901787-6/fulltext
- Global level study led by Fiona Charleston in 2022 identified priorities for climate change and mental health research: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412021006097?via%3Dihub
- Augustinavicius recently led a Delphi study supported by the MHPSS collaborative posted by Save the Children Denmark. Focus on priorities for mental health and psychosocial support intervention research to be published in the upcoming Intervention Journal’s special edition
- She also mentioned that Also MHPSS collaborative hosts a working group on MHPSS research which birthed this study
- About climate change being a “slow” threat: https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/
- Local initiative due to cyclones: https://mhi.org.in/voice/details/fostering-resilience-wake-disasters/
- Local initiative due to draughts in India: https://mhi.org.in/voice/details/fostering-resilience-wake-disasters/