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Climate Change and Mental Health Connections

The potential impacts of climate change are familiar — we often see news about extreme weather events, droughts, flooding and impacts on agriculture and infrastructure. But we may hear less about the impact of climate change on health and mental health.

Natural disasters have harmful effects on health and mental health. Though most people will ultimately do well, many individuals impacted by extreme weather events and slower moving events such as droughts, experience a range of difficulties.1 The mental health consequences of events linked to a changing global climate include mild stress and distress, high-risk coping behavior such as increased alcohol use and, occasionally, mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

Climate change-related impacts can also lead to job loss, force people to move, or lead to a loss of social support and community resources—all of which have mental health consequences. In addition, anticipation of extreme weather events and concern about the phenomenon of climate change can be stressful. There are steps you can take to better prepare for disasters and to help yourself and your family when they do occur.

How Extreme Weather Events Affect Mental Health

Extreme weather events such as large storms, flooding, droughts and heat waves are likely to become more frequent or more intense with climate change. Experiencing these types of events can cause significant stress and distress for many and can contribute to more serious mental health issues.

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Resilience and Individual Actions Before and After a Disaster

There are helpful things you can do to prepare for and respond to emergency and disaster events. Individual actions include making and practicing household emergency plans; caring for yourself through healthy habits; building connections with family, friends, neighbors and others to create strong social networks; and taking steps to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change on yourself and your family.

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Physician review:

Joshua C. Morganstein, M.D.

November 2019

Medical leadership for mind, brain and body.

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