Mental Illness Rates Are Up. Could Climate Change Be to Blame?

 Chalk up another adverse side effect to global warming: today Australian scientists will release a paper linking increased rates of mental illness to the "loss of social cohesion in the wake of severe weather events related to climate change." Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse increase in the wake of extreme weather—and a reported one in five people suffer from "emotional injury, stress, and despair" after the events, says the report, entitled A Climate of Suffering: The Real Cost of Living with Inaction on Climate ChangeThe Sydney Morning Herald:


[The paper] shows that one in 10 primary school children reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of cyclone Larry in 2006. More than one in 10 reported symptoms more than three months after the cyclone.


''There's really clear evidence around severe weather events,'' the executive director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, Professor Ian Hickie, said. [...]

Professor Hickie, who is launching the report today, said climate change and particularly severe weather events were likely to be a major factor influencing mental health in the future.



''When we talk about the next 50 years and what are going to be the big drivers at the community level of mental health costs, one we need to factor in are severe weather events, catastrophic weather events,'' he said.

Most of the science on climate change focuses on environmental upheaval and its effect on basic necessities, like access to water and the ability to grow food, so it's interesting (and refreshing) to see a report that puts human mental health on par. But it makes so much sense in context—when apocalypse movies depict rogue bands of violent, gun-wielding cannibals, hypothetically speaking, it's not only their lack of access to food that's making them act that way. 
''What we have seriously underestimated is the effects [of climate change] on social cohesion," said Professor Hickie. "That is very hard to rebuild and they are critical to the mental health of an individual.'' Fascinating. Read the full news piece here.


AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at August 29, 2011, 4:36am

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