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Healthy Minds Healthy College

Climate change and mental health: the intersections

September 24, 2019

With the upcoming General Strike for Climate Action happening at the Manitoba Legislative Building on Friday, September 27th, climate change is top of mind for many people. RRC’s Sustainability Office is marking the occasion in several ways.

Given this timing, it’s fitting to examine how mental health and climate change are connected. Once we take a look, there are indeed several ways that climate change affects mental health.

First, natural disasters place increased strain on people living in areas affected by droughts, floods, forest fires, hurricanes and the like. The trauma caused by these events increases risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While not everyone exposed to the trauma develops a disorder, when a whole community is affected by such a disaster, there will certainly be an increased demand for mental health services and a disruption to the community as a whole.

In addition, many people experience climate change related grief in response to experienced or anticipated loss of natural environments. Lakes, land, forests, and other natural environments help us develop a sense of place and are key settings in which we build good mental health. The grief related to losing these is very real and impacts a person’s well-being.

Yet another way in which climate change affects mental health is through climate anxiety: worry and fear related to the consequences of climate change. Many people can be concerned, even very concerned, about climate change while still functioning well in their lives. For some, however, this anxiety can become intense and lead to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, intense anger, inability to continue with daily activities and even thoughts of suicide.

If you are feeling this extreme form of climate anxiety, please reach out for support. Students can connect with RRC Counselling Services or use the student benefits plan to connect with a therapist in the community. Staff can reach out to our Employee and Family Assistance Program.

For anyone whose mental health is affected by climate change, it can be helpful to participate in direct positive action and to be around others who understand your concerns. So, check out the activities that the Sustainability Office has planned and get involved.

References:

Lewis, J. (2018). In the Room With Climate Anxiety PART 1. Psychiatric Times, 35(11), 1–2.

Focus on climate change and mental health. (2018). Nature Climate Change,(4), 259-259.