The Largely Unacknowledged Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health

by Ellen Broaddus

Eva and Robert Gifford (2016) assess the relationship between climate change and mental health, looking at the environmental causes, effects, and social factors, the individuals and communities that are most vulnerable, and possible solutions. This largely untouched field of climate change research traces many of today’s physical and mental diseases to the environmental uncertainty and fear-driven anger caused by both drastic and incremental weather pattern changes. The most ubiquitous link emphasized the increase in climate-connected psychological responses: citing floods and droughts accompanying “anxiety, shock, depression, sleep disruptions”, and heat waves being linked to increases in “homicide, suicide, and spousal abuse”. In addition to these short-term reactions, environmental insecurity has led to long-term consequences, especially in children. Recently there has been a rise of respiratory conditions and asthma as a result of air pollution, causing anxiety for children and their families. The link between natural disasters and prevalence of social withdrawal and PTSD has been shown to alter the stress responses of adolescents, putting them at “higher risk for later health challenges”. Continue reading

The Psychology Behind Climate-Related Inaction

by Emily Segal

Though many people agree that climate change is a pressing issue in today’s world, very few of those people actually change their behavior to remedy this. In some cases there are structural factors limiting their ability to make decisions that would reduce their ecological footprint. For example, people on a low-income budget might not have the extra money to install solar panels. However, for those who are not restricted by structural factors, adaptation to a more sustainable lifestyle is not currently accepted on the scale it must be if those same people are serious about reducing climate change. Psychologist Robert Gifford suggests that there are three main reasons behind this inaction. Ignorance first will hinder people from altering their behavior because they are not aware of the problem at all. Secondly, once one becomes aware of the problem, various psychological processes may prohibit action. Lastly, after some action is taken, the person may think their action establishes they have done their part to reduce climate change when in reality they have not done enough, or they have done something that is counterproductive. To better understand this disconnect between awareness and lack of action, Gifford further divided the three main reasons behind inaction into seven psychological barriers preventing people from doing what they should in order to truly reduce climate change. Continue reading