Climate change can adversely affect mental health through acute and subacute impacts, as well as influence long term mental health outcomes. Exposure to extreme weather, such as bushfires, floods, and droughts, can cause trauma, stress and grief, while heatwaves can exacerbate mental illness and the effects of psychotherapeutic medication. Subacute impacts are associated with enduring mental stress, either related to post traumatic stress disorder, or psychological responses to loss. Each of these impacts is mediated by one’s physical health, socio-economic factors, exposure to repeated stressors, risk of displacement and / or forced migration, and wider community resilience. Some populations are at higher risk, often due to existing inequalities which climate change will only exacerbate.
Furthermore, unmitigated climate change is leading to rising levels of anxiety related to climate change as an existential threat. A growing number of primary health care professionals and people across the world are reporting climate-related stress and depression. The term ‘eco-anxiety’ has been used to denote this experience, defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2017 as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”.
Despite this, the existing literature on climate change and mental health is sparse with large gaps in our knowledge. What literature does exist is largely focused on characterising and quantifying the impact of climate change on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, and there is significant gaps in research on effective policy responses, either mitigation or adaptation strategies, or mental health promotion