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.

Studies show that climate change related events can affect health and mental health. Extreme weather events and slower moving events such as droughts can have significant effects.1 The mental health consequences of events linked to a changing global climate include mild stress and distress, high-risk coping behavior such as 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.

How Climate-Related Natural Disasters Affect Mental Health

Research indicates that 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 disasters related to climate and weather can cause significant stress and distress for many and contribute to more serious mental health issues.

Climate-Related Natural Disasters: Resilience and Individual Actions

There are helpful things you can do to prepare for and respond to emergency and disaster events. Individual actions might 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 participating in policy and advocacy efforts to combat climate change.

Public Perception: How Americans See Climate Change

A majority of Americans already believe there is a connection between climate change and health. A national poll in the spring of 2017 found that 63 percent of Americans believe climate change is already impacting our health.

An Illustration on How Climate Change Impacts Physical, Mental, and Community Health

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APA Position Statement

Mental Health and Climate Change

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognizes that climate change poses a threat to public health, including mental health. Those with mental health disorders are disproportionately impacted by the consequences of climate change. APA recognizes and commits to support and collaborate with patients, communities, and other healthcare organizations engaged in efforts to mitigate the adverse health and mental health effects of climate change.

Approved by the APA Board of Trustees, March 2017

Companion Resource Document: Mental Health and Climate Changef

Physician Review

Joshua C. Morganstein, M.D.
Robin Cooper, M.D.
July 2017