Mental Health in context of Climate Change

In a recent policy brief by the World Health Organization, there is strong urge to integrate climate change into policies and programs related to mental heath.

Mental Health in context of Climate Change
Image credits: World Health Organization

Mental Health problem is a global challenge. Globally, 1 billion people are currently living with any mental disorder. The treatment cost of it is around $1 trillion every year . There is a widening gap between mental health care needs and services. This gap is the highest in low and middle income countries.

Globally, there are only 13 mental health workers per 100,000 persons. 25% of years lived with disability are caused by mental, neurological and  other substance use disorders.

Where there are several reasons contributing to one's mental health condition, climate change is one of them. However, there are still gaps in understanding associations between mental health and climate change. Studies have started coming in only after 2007.

In any extreme climate conditions, like floods, drought, hurricane, cyclone, etc. people suffer from various mental health conditions like PTSD, depression, substance abuse, etc. However, what are the necessary mental health care interventions for small episodes of climate change like heat stress?

Delhi people are suffering from severe heat waves from past couple of days. Temperature are strongly breaching 45 degree mark and heat spells are gripping Delhi people in really bad manner. Today heat waves, however, are considered among the deadliest weather conditions.

According to CDC, United states, heat waves can cause dementia in people leading to hospitalization and death. People suffering from mental health conditions like schizophrenia are at risk during hot weather as their medications may interfere with temperature regulation.

It is so apparent that high temperatures often makes us cranky, temper flares and agitated and frustrated. There are studies which suggest a temperature rise of 4% could lead to an increase in interpersonal violence and 14% increase in group violence. There also cases of violence on women and children.

Research also shows that increase in temperatures are link with spike in suicidal numbers. It is estimated that there could be additional 9000 to 40000 suicides in US and Mexico by 2050 due to climate change, green house emissions and global warming.

There is a relation between persons mood (depressive language) and increased temperature. Studies suggest increase in temperatures may lead to decrease in mental well being and affect cognitive functions. It also affects focus, processing time, reaction and memory.  (Harvard study can be find here)

People who are already suffering from severe psychotic or mood disorders, substance abuse are even more vulnerable in intense heat conditions. They are more likely to experience conditions like heat stroke and heat related morbidity. Thus, there is no uniformity in studying the effects of heat stress on  different population.

In a recent policy brief by the World Health Organization, there is strong urge to integrate climate change into policies and programs related to mental heath. India, in 2017 have started the project "Disaster Resilient Cities through Risk Reduction to Disaster and Climate Change" by the United Nations Development Program and National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences. The aim of the project was to include more and more local government and  stakeholders to support the integration of mental health and climate change. However, these efforts will take time to reach to people working in places like construction sites, street vendors, fruit and vegetable sellers.