Updated: Aug 8
We are gearing up for our series on Planet Self Care during our next season of In The Spirit of Things. Do you understand the mental health implications of climate change? Over the coming weeks a panel of experts will share their knowledge with us - we ask you to talk to your families and communities in response to this series about how we all have to act now. It cannot wait.
To help, Doctors for the Environment have authored an excellent resource: How Climate Change Affects Mental Health In Australia. "Climate change drives increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather events such as extreme heat, bushfires, storms and floods.9,15 Exposure to these events can result in psychological distress which can manifest in many ways in individuals and communities. There is a spectrum of severity ranging from mild transient distress which resolves without external intervention, to severe mental illness requiring long term involvement of specialist services.
Compound events, where multiple disasters intersect with less time for recovery and erosion of resilience, are made more likely by climate change. An example of this can be seen in the bushfire and flood disasters which affected the east coast of Australia in rapid succession over 2019-2021. These “domino” crises such as the sequence of drought, bushfires, floods, intersected by COVID-19, have an even greater impact than single events, where the mental health impacts are compounded. Heat is associated with increased aggression, domestic violence and with mental and behavioural disorders including self-harm. There is clear evidence of increased mental health emergency presentations and hospital admissions in hotter weather for children and adults, especially when adjusted for humidity. This association is more marked in people with pre existing mental illness, the elderly, First Nations people and farmers whose livelihoods depend on a hospitable environment. The mental health impacts of extreme heat are equivalent to those of unemployment, and are more significant for women. Australian data shows an overall trend towards increased suicide rates with increased annual temperatures. This finding is consistent across a wide range of countries and populations. Estimates from the USA and Mexico suggest 22,000 extra suicides due to climate change continuing at its current rate by 2050.
Those who contribute least to climate change may be impacted most - including Indigenous peoples, refugees, people living in poverty, the unemployed, the homeless, the alienated, the very young and the very old.
General resources on climate change and mental health; “Coping with climate change distress” is an excellent, free to download resource which was developed jointly between experts in the field from different organisations (Australian Psychological Society, Psychology for a Safe Climate, The Climate Reality Project Australia and The Australian Conservation Foundation) https://psychology.org.au/for-the-public/psychology-topics/climate-change-psychology/coping-with-climate-change-distress
Other climate change resources from The Australian Psychological Society: https://psychology.org.au/for-the-public/psychology-topics/climate-change-psychology
Specific resources for coping with disasters - all of those listed here are increased by Climate Change (bushfires, floods, drought, severe storms and, one that may be unexpected but is clearly linked, community violence): https://psychology.org.au/for-the-public/psychology-topics/disasters
Psychology for a Safe Climate - has excellent resources, which include a network of mental health practitioners who have completed professional development on climate change mental health impacts, and professional development resources for clinicians and people whose work or voluntary roles are impacted by climate change (eg climate scientists, teachers, health professionals, advocates etc) https://www.psychologyforasafeclimate.org/resources/
Resources for parents and carers to support children and young people: https://psychology.org.au/for-the-public/psychology-topics/climate-change-psychology/talking-with-children-about-the-environmenthttps://climatepsychologyalliance.org/support/youngpeople/545-parent-teacher-resources
Book for younger children recommended by Prof David Pollack (Climate Psychiatry Alliance); Coco’s fire https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60643641-coco-s-fire
Resource with First Nations’ people in mind: https://www.seedmob.org.au/
Position statement from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ on climate change mental health impacts: https://www.ranzcp.org/news-policy/policy-and-advocacy/position-statements/the-mental-health-impacts-of-climate-change
Doctors for the Environment Australia: https://www.dea.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Report-How-Climate-Change-Affects-Mental-Health-in-Australia-v3-1.pdf
Climate and health alliance - peak body representing health professionals in Australia:
Dr Cybele Dey Interview Biography
Dr Cybele Dey is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist who works as a Staff Specialist at The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, Australia, both locally and via telehealth to rural and remote areas of NSW. She is dual qualified as a Paediatrician. She has worked as a doctor in child and adolescent psychiatry for over 20 years. She is a member of Doctors for the Environment, Australia, Co-Chair of the Mental Health Special Interest Group and chaired sessions on Climate and Mental Health at this year’s Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists annual meeting held in Sydney May 15-19. "
Dr Dey is currently involved in research into the impact of heat on Child and Adolescent self-harm across NSW with collaborators, including from the University of NSW, Sydney, Australia. She has published and presented on Climate Change and Mental Health in children and adolescents at local and National levels.