Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being, and thus countries must make it a priority while taking efforts to tackle the climate crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. The findings concur with a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in February this year.
The report revealed that rapidly increasing climate change poses a rising threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being; from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behavior. A 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries found that only 9 have thus far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans.
“The impacts of climate change are increasingly part of our daily lives, and there is very little dedicated mental health support available for people and communities dealing with climate-related hazards and long-term risk,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO on Friday.
The mental health impacts of climate change are unequally distributed with certain groups disproportionately affected depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender and age. However, it is clear that climate change affects many of the social determinants that are already leading to massive mental health burdens globally.
“The impact of climate change is compounding the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and mental health services globally. There are nearly 1 billion people living with mental health conditions, yet in low- and middle-income countries, 3 out of 4 do not have access to needed services” said Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “By ramping up mental health and psychosocial support within disaster risk reduction and climate action, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk.”
The new WHO policy brief recommends five important approaches for governments to address the mental health impacts of climate change. These are: integrate climate considerations with mental health programmes; integrate mental health support with climate action; build upon global commitments; develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities; and close the large funding gap that exists for mental health and psychosocial support.
“WHO’s Member States have made it very clear that mental health is a priority for them. We are working closely with countries to protect people’s physical and mental health from climate threats,” said Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO climate lead, and an IPCC lead author.