Is Climate Change Making Us Mental?

droughtIf you were to click on my bio here for Sustainablog, you’d see that I started down this green path because my son who was six at the time had read about global warming and gave us the “what for” over the SUV we owned. We joke now with him that he was the one that got this whole thing started for our family, yet at times he seems, at almost ten years old, the least interested in the environment. In a way, that may be a good thing.

The Boston Globe reported that Climate change takes a mental toll, and that children and adults alike are starting to have “psychosis or anxiety disorders focused on climate change.” Children especially “are having nightmares about global-warming-related natural disasters.”

Emotional distress and mental problems related to current events and natural disasters is not something new. The article points out that in the past threats such as nuclear war or AIDS have affected the mental health of past generations.

There are concerns that climate change could have an even greater effect if some of the predictions about climate change begin to manifest themselves. Much of what is predicted about climate change will show itself in extreme weather conditions.

There is evidence that extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, cyclones, and hurricanes, can lead to emotional distress, which can trigger such things as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, in which the body’s fear and arousal system kicks into overdrive.

After Hurricane Katrina, rates of severe mental illness – including depression, PTSD, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and a variety of phobias – doubled, from 6.1 percent to 11.3 percent, among those who lived in affected regions, a 2006 study by the Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group said.

Rates of mild-to-moderate mental illness also doubled, from 9.7 percent to 19.9 percent.

“After a disaster, people can feel inadequate, like outside forces are taking control of their lives,” said Joshua Miller, a professor at the Smith College School for Social Work who responds to disasters worldwide. “They can’t see a positive future. They tend to lose hope or become depressed.”

The article goes on to talk about how people’s environments change, they may become a source of “chronic stress.”

What can be done?

Miller says that “we need to train people to administer psychological first aid” including

making sure people feel safe after a natural disaster, and educating them about the kinds of psychological responses they might experience.

In the long term, we may also derive some psychological benefit from banding together with other citizens to mitigate the effects of global warming. Taking action might not only give us back a sense of our own sense of efficacy against a powerful outside force, but also help us build community and social ties that offset stress… Getting involved can be an antidote to the depression that can come from the overwhelming realizations that we have to face… It can be empowering to realize that what you do is effective.

Image credit: suburbanbloke under a Creative Commons license

  1. Nick Hein

    Thanks for the article. Of more immediate concern to mental health are the following:
    Increased atmospheric (indoor and outdoor) CO2 displaces oxygen in the bloodstream, reducing the effectiveness of the brain for logical and emotional functioning.

    Western diets heavy in glucose and synthetic chemicals deprive the brain of needed micronutrients and biochemicals needed for proper logical and emotional functioning.

    Suppressed immunity resulting from antibiotics leads to infectious disease in the brain that compromises our functioning (particularly toxiplasmosis).

    Car exhaust and industrial pollutants debilitate our brain to varying degrees. I saw this personally from the time I gave up my car in 2001 (a few months before 9/11). I was much lessed traumatized by the disaster than anyone else around.

    Cooking food destroys enzymes that are critical to our functioning at all levels. It isn’t necessary to be 100% raw to get good results, but most Americans get less than 2% fresh produce in their daily meals – that has dire consequences, especially when the food is cooked with trans-fats and toxic chemicals.

  2. David Herron

    I believe one of the core purposes of ecopsychology is to help us address our emotional content related to the environment. The environment plays a very important role in our lives in that it provides our food, raw materials, clothing, etc, and without the environment we could not live. Hence a threat to that is also a threat to us individuals.

  3. granolajoe

    After I read a blog post where a woman said that she used to be proud of her children traveling the world, but is now ashamed because they have scarred the Earth with their countless miles of emissions, I came to the conclusion that yes, climate change is making people crazy

  4. Bobby B.

    So, it comes as a surprise that 40+ years of incessant badgering about an impending environmental apocalypse and the supposed supporting evidence of said theory vis-a-vis destructive weather phenomena are starting to drive people crazy? (sarcasm amplified)

    When the world became god to the masses, those masses realized that they were worshipping a finite entity. Rather than being an infinite all-powerful spirit, god became a vulnerable entity well on its way to the grave due to the very actions of its faithful disciples. If this new god has not the power to heal itself, how will it ever have the power to save the souls of its devoted masses? What happens to the eternal human soul after the death of the body if this god is angry? Does the soul or eternity even exist in this paradigm? These questions are at the root of the environmental movement’s doctrine of hopelessness. Hopelessness is the root of mental illness, absent a chemical imbalance. Is it any wonder that people fear the future?

    I recently completed “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis. The story is told in the voice of Screwtape, an experience devil. His letters are meant to offer guidance to his nephew, Wormwood, a young tempter. I would highly recommend reading it. It is both entertaining and spiritually uplifting. It closes with a chapter entitled “Screwtape Proposes A Toast” from which I borrow the following passage:

    “…the real end is the destruction of individuals. For only individuals can be saved or damned, can become sons of the Enemy [God] or food for us [devils]. The ultimate value, for us, of any revolution, war, or famine lies in the individual anguish, treachery, hatred, rage, and despair which it may produce.”

    Everyone needs to determine if his/her soul is temporal and tied only to this world, or if his/her soul is eternal and bound for salvation or damnation.

  5. Sherry Robinson

    Reacting to environmental crisis is necessary to wake us up from the societal numbing effects of consumerism.

    Often despair and grief cause us to make choices we may never consciously had to make in the past. Our choices that build up our resilience, strenthen us to respond in creative ways before future crisis threatens us.

    What is most dangerous, is when people in society become ‘apathetic’ in response to crisis and feel helpless and powerless. That apathy numbs our attachment to our environment and planet.

    At this time of economic and environmental crisis, all we need to do is simply connect with nature and notice what catches our attention and feel deeply how this has a calming effect within our psyches and bodies.

  6. Bobby B.

    “At this time of economic and environmental crisis, all we need to do is simply connect with nature and notice what catches our attention and feel deeply how this has a calming effect within our psyches and bodies.”

    Will connecting with nature and feeling the calm deep reconcile one’s eternal soul or simply a segment of his temporal existence? Connecting and feeling in and of themselves last for only a short time. If connecting with nature reveals the Creator with Whom one can build an eternal relationship, you are probably on the right track. Stop to consider the source of the calm.

  7. Come on...

    Umm… People are out there howling at our children “OMG THE WORLD IS GOING TO END BECAUSE OF GLOBAL WARMING… WE’RE ALL DOOMED YOU CAN’T HIDE”

    I have nightmares about Zombies – but it’s because of the movies/media not the zombies

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