PTSD, anxiety, grief, despair, stress – even suicide.
The damage of unfolding climate change isn’t only counted in water shortages and wildfires, it’s likely eroding mental health on a mass scale, too, reports the American Psychological Association.
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For some the trauma is direct and acute – the loss of a home or a loved one to a flood, hurricane or wildfire can be mentally devastating. Research in a paper led by Harvard Medical School, provided data showing that after Hurricane Katrina, residents of areas affected by the disaster saw a more than doubling of suicide and suicidal ideation. In fact, one in six met the criteria for PTSD, according to a Columbia University-led paper. Levels of PTSD were also found to be higher among people who live through wildfires and extreme storms, sometimes lasting several years.
But slower disasters like a prolonged drought, long term food shortages, rising sea levels, and the gradual loss of natural environments, can “cause some of the most resounding chronic psychological consequences, says the APA. “Gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface in a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.”
Other health conditions linked directly to experiencing the impacts of climate change, according to the APA, are:
- trauma and shock
- compounded stress
- strains on social relationships
- substance abuse
- aggression and violence
- loss of autonomy and control
- loss of personal and occupational identity
- feelings of helplessness, fear, and fatalism
Sadly, dealing with the psychological distress of a changing environment is becoming more common. In 2011, a New York Times article highlighted an organization called the International Community for Ecopsychology, which currently has a modest directory of 31 therapists specializing in environment-related distress.
It doesn’t look like this problem is going away anytime soon.