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Let’s talk about mental health when we talk about climate change

Let’s talk about mental health when we talk about climate change

Silhouette on a mountain at sunset

Many of us may be surprised to learn that climate change can have profound effects on our mental health. In March, the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica released a report, Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, which details the impacts of climate change on mental health.

The report’s findings are concerning. First of all, the research found that populations already vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which disproportionately include low-income communities and communities of color, have an increased risk of experiencing the negative mental health effects of climate change. According to the report, factors that are likely to increase mental health impacts are geographic location, presence of pre-existing disabilities or chronic illnesses, and socioeconomic and demographic inequalities, such as education level, income, and age.

Scientists have long understood that climate change causes extreme weather patterns, droughts, floods, famine and polluted air and water. But this report investigates the hidden impacts of those events – the impacts that we often do not see or talk about. Climate change, and in particular, the loss of one’s home, uncertainty about sustenance, and ever changing extreme weather patterns, can take a toll on one’s mental health and well-being. Some of these effects include increased trauma and shock, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compounded stress, anxiety, substance abuse, and depression.

Mental health is yet another aspect of our lives that intersects with climate change and environmental issues. In the very first book of the Torah, God takes Adam around the Garden of Eden and commands us “to till and to tend” the earth (Genesis 2:15). Grounded in this textual responsibility, we understand that humans are inextricably linked to the earth. In this way, caring for the earth is caring for ourselves.

The costs of climate change are too high not to act. And mental health, whether affected by climate change or otherwise, is too important to ignore. The recently released report concludes with a detailed section on building resilience, supporting individuals, supporting communities, and what individuals and mental health professionals can do. It concludes that there are solutions out there, and that we must take collective action. Visit the RAC’s Environment and Mental Health pages to learn more about our work on these two vital issues. 

Lizzie Stein is a leadership development associate at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she previously served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. In her current role, she leads fellowships for alumni of RAC programs and brings leadership skills training to the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminars and other programs. Lizzie also staffs the Urgency of Now: Transgender Rights Campaign. A graduate of Occidential College, she is a member of Temple Kol Ami in Phoenix, AZ, her hometown.

Lizzie Stein

Published: 8/07/2017