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Health and mental health threatened by climate change, report finds

New United States Global Change Research Program report released

Climate change presents a growing risk to health, including mental health and wellbeing, according to the United States Global Change Research Program which has just released its report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.

Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society Professor Joseph Reser, from Griffith University, a contributing author said, “This is a first for the National Climate Health Impacts Report to have a special stand-alone Health Impacts Report, and one which includes a mental health and wellbeing chapter.”

The report indicates that the ongoing threat of climate change is having multiple and current psychological and social impacts on health and wellbeing, ranging from elevated concern, feelings of helplessness, and pessimism, to more severe symptoms of distress.

“The findings here are echoed by our Australian research findings,” says Professor Reser. “The ongoing and profound threat of climate change is here and now, affecting quality of life and the environment, mental health and wellbeing, and how people feel about and respond to environmental issues. There is a crucial need to be effectively documenting, and monitoring these psychological impacts as well as taking action to address them.”

Populations at higher risk for poor mental health outcomes as the negative effects of climate change progress, include:

  • Children - at particular risk for distress, anxiety, and other adverse mental health effects in the aftermath of an extreme climate event.
  • Elderly - higher rates of untreated depression and physical ailments contribute to their overall vulnerability, such as increased susceptibility to heat.
  • Economically disadvantaged - people living in poverty and with fewer socioeconomicresources have less capacity to adapt to the challenges brought by climate change.
  • Farming or rural communities - vulnerable to the negative mental health outcomesassociated with drought. Older farmers in Australia report an overwhelming sense of loss as a result of chronic drought and its economic consequences.
  • People with mental illness - those using medications to treat disorders such as depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events and extreme heat.
  • Women, pregnant women, post-partum mothers - are prone to greater worry and feelings of vulnerability, anxiety disorders, and other adverse mental health outcomes; suffer higher rates of PTSD after disasters than men. Increases in domestic violence towards women are also common after a disaster.


About the report

The climate and health assessment represents a coordinated effort by eight Federal agencies and more than 100 experts from across the United States to inform public health officials, urban and disaster response planners, decision makers, and other stakeholders within and outside of the government who are interested in better understanding the risks climate change presents to human health.

Professor Reser - a leading Australian environmental psychologist involved in national and international research on public risk perception, public understandings, and responses to climate change - was asked to participate in this ground-breaking research.


For more information, or to arrange an interview call the APS Media team on 03 8662 3358 or 0435 896 444, or email media@psychology.org.au. Find the APS Media team on Twitter: @AustPsych

The APS is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 23,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to people’s lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.