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Climate Changes Health: Mental Wellness


"We must not forget that people who are physically affected by climate change will also be suffering from the emotional fallout of what has happened to them...And the psychological damage is not only over what is happening now, but what is likely going to happen in the future."
–- Forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren, MD, in Forbes

Climate change not only harms our physical health. It also threatens our mental wellness. Climate events, such as extreme storms or extreme heat, can lead to depression, anger and even violence. Depending on the type of disaster and resulting displacement, climate change can cause and intensify stress and anxiety. It has been reported that between 25 and 50 percent of people exposed to a natural disaster are at risk for mental health effects. The onset of climate change events can adversely impact mental health acutely, gradually and indirectly.

Acute Impacts
(sudden onset)
• Destructive storms
• Floods
• Wildfires
• Extreme heat
• Stress
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Self-harm (substance abuse and suicidal ideation) 
Gradual Impacts 
(long-term conditions)
• Rising temperatures
• Elevated sea levels
• Extreme precipitation
• Chronic stress from climate consequences
(job loss, displacement)
• Chronic stress from physical health effects
(infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, nutrient deficiencies) 
Indirect Impacts 
(after a climate events)
• Physical damage to communities
• Physical environment degradation
• Diminished sense of self
• Difficulty relating to others
• Diminished social interaction
• Loss of connections to the environment and community
• Violence (domestic violence, child abuse)

(Source: Making the Connection: Climate Changes Mental Health webinar, June 2016)

Although we are all at risk, certain groups are more susceptible to distress and other mental health problems linked to climate change-related exposures. Children, the elderly, women (particularly pregnant women and mothers of newborns), minorities, the poor, the homeless, people with preexisting mental illness and first responders are more vulnerable to negative mental health outcomes. Communities that rely on the natural environment for sustenance and their livelihood are also in danger of adverse mental health consequences, e.g. agricultural workers and indigenous communities. Patients with mental health challenges are especially vulnerable to heat waves.

Download the Mental Wellness Social Media Toolkit (PDF).

Learn more:

From Public Health NewswirePublic health stands firm: APHA Annual Meeting & Expo will rally around climate change*

(*blog posts only represent the views of the author)

View the workshop: Building Mental Wellness and Psychosocial Resilience for Climate Change 

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Benefits of Clean Energy
Climate Justice
Extreme Weather
Food and Agriculture
Mental Wellness
Respiratory Health
Transportation, Communities and Your Health
Tribal and Indigenous Health
Vulnerable Populations
Water Quality and Accessibility


Fact sheets on Climate Change

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