Climate crisis poses serious threat to mental health, says WHO

A new World Heath Organisation (WHO) policy brief highlights the growing impact of the climate crisis on mental health and urges countries to act.

Launched at the Stockholm+50 conference, WHO is encouraging nations across the world to include mental health support in their responses to the climate crisis.

The IPCC report published this February discovered that the climate crisis was causing widespread emotional distress, anxiety, depression, grief and suicidal behaviour.

man in orange long sleeve shirt sitting on gray couch

‘The impacts of climate change are increasingly part of our daily lives, and there is very little dedicated mental health support available for people and communities dealing with climate-related hazards and long-term risk,’ said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health.

The WHO policy brief recommends five approaches governments can take to address the issue, including the integration of climate issues, climate action and mental health programmes.

Nations have also been encouraged to build upon global commitments, develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities and close the funding gap for mental health support.

The mental health impacts of the crisis vary depending on socioeconomic status, gender and age, but the effects are felt globally.

A survey conducted by WHO in 2021 found that out of 95 countries only 9 so far have included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate plans.

‘The impact of climate change is compounding the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and mental health services globally. There are nearly 1 billion people living with mental health conditions, yet in low- and middle-income countries, 3 out 4 do not have access to needed services,’ said Dévora Kestel, WHO Director, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. ‘By ramping up mental health and psychosocial support within disaster risk reduction and climate action, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk.’

Some countries already have these kind of mental health models, including the Philippines which improved its services after the Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

India also has a national project which has scaled up disaster risk reduction and is preparing cities to respond to climate risks and address mental health needs.

Photo by Joice Kelly


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