Climate Change Impact on Mental Health

January 30th, 2010 healthwiki

Mental health is deeply influenced by external social and environmental factors. Along with physical illness, it is now well evident that extreme climatic events can cause significant psychological stress with long-lasting effects on anxiety levels and depression.

There would be more devastating permanent mental health impact on the survivors like a child, who has to face the burden of pain and stress of losing his or her family members.

Ironically, the issue is overlooked very often and the effects of climate change on mental health are relatively missing in most discussions on climate change. But experts feared that rapid change in the climate is likely to fuel up the current rising trends of mental illness.

UNFCCC 4th report on global warming stated that there is a direct association between the presence of major mental illness like acute psychosis and schizophrenia in tropical countries.

Extreme climate change events like heat stoke which manifest as delirium and other neuro-psychiatric syndromes characterised by altered consciousness to agitation, restlessness, unconsciousness and even death. Heat stroke has already caused deaths among heavy workers and rickshaw pullers in Bangladesh.

A study conducted by Jain S (2001) demonstrated the association between presence of acute psychosis, schizophrenia, mood disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders with post viral infections which is set to increase with the climate change. Post viral infection is one of the important risk factors for damaging fetal brain in the intrauterine period which causes many developmental and mental disorders among children in future.

Major population displacement after an extreme climatic event would cause social disruption, unemployment, social conflicts, mental unrest and economic burden and uncertainty as we see in Haiti following a massive earthquake.

All these factors are associated with increased prevalence of mental disorders like anxiety, depression and stress disorders. Besides, increase salinity of water in the coastal area would hamper food production which results in malnutrition and child developmental disorders.

The extreme events cause immense psychosocial stress especially among vulnerable groups like children, women and elderly. A survey among Asian Tsunami affected population by WHO revealed that 30-50% of population suffered from moderate to severe form of mental disorders.

Natural disasters have shown to result in increased domestic violence due to frustration and anger. Flood is a common natural calamity in Bangladesh. A study in the state of Orissa in India concluded that mental disorder like depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) were increased among post flood affected population after one year.

Drought is another serious consequence of climate change which causes food scarcity, hunger and malnutrition. Drought contributes to mental agony and depression among farmers due to financial hardship which increases suicide rate among them. Suicide rate was highest among farmers in drought found in an Australian study.

A recent report of Climate Change Cell of Department of Environment of Bangladesh mentioned that the annual incidence of mental disorder was 22431 per year which was higher than that of Dengue (3305 per year). It indicates the need for prioritisation of mental health in the health component of National Adaptation Programme of Action for climate change of Bangladesh.


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