Climate change will have adverse effects on many parts of our lifes. But one effect has been almost completely neglected so far: our mental health.
At first read the negative effect of climate change on our mental health might appear less important than the prospect of hunger, drought, fire, floods, and deadly storms. But the importance of our mental health might be undervalued. In the US, about 10 percent of the population is taking anti-depressants already. How will that number change when more and more people will lose their homes in fires, friends and family in floods and storms, and if the realization that we acted too little and too late will become more and more apparent?
The burden that we will carry if we do not act in time will be tremendous, the psychological pressure for many will be unbearable. In fact,
“Climate change will create considerably more psychological than physical harm for U.S. citizens and people around the world, and the costs socially, societally, and economically are apt to be enormous.”
Typical symptoms that will be found in an increasing number of people will include anxiety, post-traumatic stress (after natural disasters), interpersonal conflict (especially during times of hunger and other need), grief, family stress, developmental problems in children, and other symptoms. These mental health problems will increase the number of conflicts within and between societies and countries.
When considering the impacts of climate change on our economy and society as a whole it is essential to also take into account how climate change will affect our mental health. Adaptation to climate change therefore also needs to consider how to improve our social system to ensure that people in need will be able to not just survive but to find a way to survive well. One important way for each of us to adapt to climate change is to ensure that we are living in or are building a stable and supportive community. In that way, climate change could have one very positive effect: increasing our community spirit as it is already happening in many communities in the world.