IPCC sheds light on the global mental health crisis linked with climate change
By Yves Miel Zuñiga, Senior Officer at UnitedGMH
Climate change and mental health
The recently published Synthesis Report (SYR) of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) summarises the state of knowledge of climate change, its widespread impacts and risks, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The new flagship report highlights the adverse impact of climate change on mental health driven by multiple factors such as temperature increase, disaster-related trauma as well as loss of livelihood and culture.
“The reference to the mental health crisis linked to climate change in AR6 is highly welcome. This crisis is already impacting millions of people in the world’s most affected countries. Yet mental health is a major blindspot in the global climate change debate.” said Yves Miel Zuinga, Senior Advisor at United for Global Mental Health. “We hope this report will help draw much needed attention to addressing the mental health crisis linked to climate change”.
The report warns that climate change can exacerbate existing mental health challenges and create new ones. Climate change impacts such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and food and water insecurity can result in physical and mental health consequences, including anxiety, depression, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation.
Impacts of climate change
“In my country, the Philippines, which has been affected by numerous climate-related typhoons, the mental health crisis is real and here to stay.
For instance, research recently published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that mental health problems persisted among a large number of survivors, long after the occurrence of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the country in 2013.
This is creating a major new challenge for an already fragile mental health system.”
The report highlights that the impact of climate change on mental health may not be limited only to direct physical impacts but can also be felt through indirect impacts such as economic instability and forced migration.
The report underscores the need for immediate and decisive action around the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and advanced mitigation of climate change.
It also emphasises the importance of adaptation measures to protect vulnerable populations, including those who are at risk of mental health impacts due to climate change.
In summary, the report states there is an urgent need for an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to addressing climate change and its impacts on mental health.
It underscores the importance of considering the mental health implications of climate change in policy and decision-making at all levels such as ensuring improved access to mental health care as a key adaptation strategy.
Solutions and WHO analysis
The impacts of climate change on mental health are complex in nature. It is essential to address the root causes of climate change while also providing support and resources to those affected by its impacts.
As the climate community is gearing up for a global stocktake of country mitigation and adaptation commitments at the next conference of parties (COP28), it is essential to reassess the risk to mental health and to examine the adequacy of national adaptation plans in dealing with it.
According to a 2021 analysis done of 19 National Adaptation Plans by the WHO, only 37% of the plans identified mental health as a risk, with only 5% of plans including an adaptation action pertaining to mental health.