How does environment impact our mental health?

A scroll through any newsfeed, the quotidian conversations we have with the people around us, a project we have lined up, a skim through mainstream media make us realise how often the information we receive is delineated with traces of information about the tsunami in Central Sulawesi, the floods in Kerala or perhaps just the unexpected heat in Edinburgh.

In the process, we recognise the eminent physical impacts of climate change. However, we hardly pay heed to the imminent psychological harms oscillated by climate change — anxiety, stress, depression, aggression or even a loss of communal identity.

To immediately illustrate the key point, let us look at an example that students of Edinburgh can readily understand. The cold wave, dubbed by the media as the ‘Beast from the East’, that affected Great Britain and Ireland earlier this year was followed by an avalanche of psychological impacts on the students. Various stressors triggered by the disruption of one’s routine: lack of external support, being cooped in with no external physical interaction, no transportation links and no incentive to get out of bed could easily lead to severe consequences in one’s mental well- being.

From inception, the health and well- being of the human race have been contingent on the climate – locally and globally. We currently reside in an era experiencing an incredible amount of scientific advancement in comprehending the physical health risks associated with climate change. Despite this, we observe how there is drastically a lesser amount of research dedicated to the mental health effects associated with disasters.

From my personal experience growing up in a developing country that is constantly afflicted with environmental catastrophe and the upkeep of a healthy mind is not in the agenda for most legislators, the impact on mental health enkindled by climate change is quite striking. As a prominent agrarian-based economy, it is sad to note that the suicide rate of farmers accounts for 11.2 per cent of all suicide rates in India. The inability to pay growing debt exacerbated by constant droughts, famines and floods, is a great ordeal that induces an awful amount of mental pressure.

In light of Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 and its focus on stress, itis important to analyse how stress disorders can transpire from climatic events grooved in at any point of the spectrum of potency. To install a comparative, researchers found that the corollary of Hurricane Katrina was that 62 per cent of the evacuees felt symptoms that were indicative of requiring a diagnosis of acute stress disorder. Scientists also recorded in the journal ‘Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Science’ that there were increased reports of anxiety and stress during months resisting a temperature of more than 30 Centigrade.

Despite the evidence that has been found, as pointed out by Dr Nick Obradovich, it is interesting to note that there is still a lack of research on the impact of the existential risk climate change may be having on our collective mental health. Undoubtedly, it is also important for countries to improve their mental health services so there would be a strong backbone of well-being support despite the climatic fluctuations.

While we may find a way to technologically or physiologically habituate to our fluctuating environment, it is important for policy-makers to interweave enactable mental- health-focused policies and awareness strategies that cater to the well-being of the people despite the disruptive environmental changes.

Climate change is not going to forsake our fragile blue planet. Undoubtedly, those drowning in poverty will be affected by it at first. Although, eventually, it is going to strike us all sooner or later and we are going to feel it, in full throttle.


Image: Karen Roe via Flickr 

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The Student Newspaper 2016