Psychological Effects of Climate Change

by Breanna Sewell

Global climate change adversely affects the Earth and its inhabitants in a multitude of ways. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy areas, although rarely noted, is the range of psychological effects that climate change can have on us. Susan Clayton and Thomas Doherty address this topic in their article “The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change.” The authors first discuss the potential causes of psychological effects that result from climate change. These include media representations of climate change and natural disasters, vulnerability versus resilience of individuals, and social and cognitive factors.

The article then discusses separately the indirect and direct effects of global climate change on the psychological state. The analysis of indirect psychological effects resulted in a wide spread of emotions describing the degree to which Americans feel concerned with the state of our planet. Ranging from “alarmed” to the belief that no action should be taken in regards to climate change, the majority of people fell in the “concerned” category. Those closer to this end of the spectrum are reportedly far more likely to experience sadness, anger, fear, etc. in response to climate change. A shocking 25% of Americans feel depressed or guilty about our environmental state. These emotions stem not from a single event that these people may have experienced, but rather, they are the general feelings associated with, and/or resulting from thought of our planet’s deteriorating state.

Direct psychological effects on the other hand are far more straightforward and tend to be the result of a specific event such as a natural disaster. For example, common effects of experiencing a natural disaster include posttraumatic stress disorder, severe depression, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Clayton and Doherty conclude their article with a call to action, requesting an acknowledgement of the severity of psychological effects of climate change and pointing out the duty of psychologists to limit the damage done as a result of environmental issues.

Clayton, S., Doherty, T., 2011. The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change. American Psychologist.

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