Climate change, Natural Disasters, and Mental Health

The WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate presents a depressing catalogue of statistics, including that 2015 was the  hottest year on record, with CO2 concentrations breaching the symbolic benchmark of 400 ppm. The Global Footprint Network released the 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts  , reveals that the global Carbon Footprint is 16 percent higher than previously calculated.    The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Catholic University of Louvain Brussels, and the U.S.  Agency for International Development released analysis of the human cost of disasters , showing that  98.6 million people worldwide were affected in 2015, and that climate was a factor in 92% of those events.  Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office estimates  that over the next five years, the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program can expect claims of $229 million per year because of hurricanes, convective storms and winter storms and $673 million for floods, for a total of $902 million in Canada. To this litany of bad  news, add another cost: the mental health cost of climate change.

The issue is addressed in a recent three-part series of articles in the Toronto Star and raises the profile of the effects of climate change on the mental health of those most exposed and affected by it.  “Climate change is Wreaking Havoc on our Mental Health, Experts say”  (Feb. 28), discusses the mental health toll on environmental scientists and activists, provides links to studies, and applauds the American Psychological Association (APA) for taking the issue seriously (unlike the Canadian association). “For Normally Stoic Farmers, The Stress of Climate Change can be too much to bear”   (Feb. 28) highlights the plight of farmers, already recognized as having one of  the highest rates of occupation-related depression and suicide, and expected to worsen with increased frequency of  weather disasters of flooding and drought.    “Aboriginal Leaders are Warning of the Mental Health Cost of Climate Change in the North”   (Feb 29) portrays Northerners as front line victims of climate change .  The author of the series, Tyler Hamilton, calls on the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Psychological Association to acknowledge the issue and develop a position on the grounds that climate change stress is  both a public health concern and a factor in economic productivity.

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