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Be Well

Climate Change and Mental Health

by Keng Lam, MD  

As we’ve reported previously, climate change poses many threats to our physical health. Now there’s mounting evidence that our mental health also stands to suffer from rising temperatures and extreme weather events—and in fact it’s already happening.

In a study published in July 2017 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, linked climate change to an increase in suicides in India. The investigator looked at 47 years of suicide records and climate data and found that high temperatures were linked to higher rates of suicide—but only during the country’s growing season, when heat is known to damage crop yields, in turn driving many farmers into poverty and despair. Using mathematical modeling, the study determined that more than 59,000 suicides in India over the past three decades were influenced by climate change.

Earlier research has shown a strong association between climate change and human conflict, including murders, assaults, domestic violence, and civil wars. Such conflicts contribute to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health problems.

The link between climate change and poor mental health provides all the more reason to find and implement solutions to this crisis before it’s too late. Alas, given the anti-science stance of the current administration and many members of Congress, this is likely to be an uphill battle in the U.S. We would all do well in our next national elections to favor candidates whose views on climate change are informed by science and who will vote in the world’s interest.

Also see Mental Health Coverage: In Danger Under Trump?