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The link between our planet’s health and our own wellbeing

Author: Shulamit Schweitzer, MHS, Senior Management Analyst, GAP Solutions Inc. contractor supporting the Division for At-Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health, and Community Resilience (ABC), Office of Policy and Planning (OPP), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR); Daniel Dodgen, PhD, Director, Division for At-Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health, and Community Resilience (ABC), Office of Policy and Planning (OPP), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR); and Darrin Donato, Senior Policy Analyst, Division for At-Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health, and Community Resilience (ABC), Office of Policy and Planning (OPP), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)
Published Date: 4/22/2016 12:45:00 PM
Category: Response & Recovery; Public Health Preparedness; Observances;

Earth day is a day to celebrate our amazing planet and to take time to pay attention to its inhabitants’ health and wellbeing. On April 4, 2016 the White House released its findings on the intersection of environment and human health in its new report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.  Many people already knew that climate change brings with it increased sea level rise, extreme weather events, vector-borne illness, extreme temperatures and more. 

But did you know that climate change also affects your mental health?

The things that impact our physical health, including climate change, also affect our mental health and wellbeing. The report includes a chapter on  Mental Health and Wellbeing that identifies four key findings which may help health and emergency management professionals plan for the mental health consequences of climate change, especially for individuals in communities with more frequent severe weather or climate-related events.

Exposure to Disasters Results in Mental Health Consequences
Key Finding 1:
Many people exposed to climate-related or weather-related disasters experience stress and serious mental health consequences. Depending on the type of the disaster, these consequences include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and general anxiety, which often occur at the same time. The majority of affected people recover over time, although a significant proportion of exposed individuals develop chronic psychological dysfunction.

Specific Groups of People Are at Higher Risk
Key Finding 2:
Specific groups of people are at higher risk for distress and other adverse mental health consequences from exposure to climate-related or weather-related disasters. These groups include children, the elderly, women (especially pregnant and post-partum women), people with preexisting mental illness, the economically disadvantaged, the homeless, and first responders. Communities that rely on the natural environment for sustenance and livelihood, as well as populations living in areas most susceptible to specific climate change events, are at increased risk for adverse mental health outcomes.

Climate Change Threats Result in Mental Health Consequences and Social Impacts
Key Finding 3:
Many people will experience adverse mental health outcomes and social impacts from the threat of climate change, the perceived direct experience of climate change, and changes to one’s local environment. Media and popular culture representations of climate change influence stress responses and mental health and well-being.

Extreme Heat Increases Risks for People with Mental Illness
Key Finding 4:
People with mental illness are at higher risk for poor physical and mental health due to extreme heat. Increases in extreme heat will increase the risk of disease and death for people with mental illness, including elderly populations and those taking prescription medications that impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

So, as you consider the best way to celebrate Earth Day, take a moment to reflect on how you can take action to support your own mental health and the mental health of other people in your family or community. Research indicates that the more engaged you are with your community, the more resilient you and your community will be when faced with challenges.


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