Factors Influencing the Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change in Canada

Katie Hayes, Peter Berry, & Kristie L. Ebi, 2019

In the past few years, news and publicity surrounding climate change in Canada have become more and more present in the media. Even since the beginning of 2020, countless news articles are describing how the climate is changing and how that might impact Canadians’ everyday lives. However, the physical aspects of climate change are the ones receiving the most attention. Recently, a study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health which examined a relationship that is often overlooked in the climate change literature.

 

The article examined how climate change impacts the mental health of Canadians, both psychologically and socially; directly after natural disasters and over long periods of climate change. In their data collection, the researchers found there was a large gap in current data regarding how communities adapt to the mental health challenges presented by climate change. In recognizing this, the study set out to examine how Canadians and communities across the country can, and do, adjust to the mental health challenges associated with climate change, and also what can be learned from current literature to further our adaptability.

 

The researchers found that climate change can cause many different mental health changes in Canadians; specifically, it is has been implicated in onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, stress, substance misuse, feelings of guilt and fatigue (after surviving natural disasters), feelings of impending doom, social stress or anxiety, and aggression (when resources have been scarce). The study also mentioned that in a few scenarios, the mental health of communities has improved if resources to adapt to climate change are available, but only after they took action to be resilient in times of trouble. Currently, Canada is responding to these negative mental health changes through the funding and distribution of professionals, and initiatives that address and work to treat the mental health changes arising in the country.

 

The study also found that the impact climate change has on mental health is influenced (and almost controlled) by the community a person lives in. Specifically, differences in communities’ social determinants of health (SDoH) and environmental determinants of health (EDoH) are the two main predictors of how badly climate change will have an impact on the mental health of communities. SDoH are factors like employment, housing, income, social support, accessible health care, and accessible nutrition whereas EDoH include pollution, species abundance, and ecosystem changes. When communities are wealthier, healthier, have access to more resources, and live in non-polluted and ecologically diverse places, mental health effects of climate change seem to be less prevalent (and vice versa). The authors suggest that studies before this one have missed the “influencing factors”, which are factors that impact individuals and communities ability to adapt to climate change-related mental health problems. The figure below is a schematic outline of 11 major influencing factors that pertain specifically to Canadians.

 

Overall, this study is helpful because it studies not only the mental health outcomes of climate change on Canadians, but also has sheds light on new information that can be used to help solve our current problem. In identifying these influencing factors, this study has highlighted new ideas that can be used and incorporated into policies for climate change. As well, public health care organizations can go forward and examine these influencing factors to help reduce the burden climate change has on Canadian’s mental health. Lastly, this information can be used by healthcare workers to better support patients and communities that are currently suffering from mental health-related problems as a result of climate change.

Find the full report here.

Figure 1: Factors influencing psychosocial health impacts of climate change. These 11 influencing factors affect the development, time of onset, and severity of climate change-induced mental illness.

 

 

References

 

1. Hayes K, Berry P, Ebi KL. Factors influencing the mental health consequences of climate change in Canada. 2019. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(1583). DOI: 10.3390/ijerph16091583

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