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How Climate Change Affects Mental Health

Due to the rise of temperature, there has been an increase in mental health problems. / Photo by: Wang Tom via 123rf

 

Global temperatures have continued to rise by one degree Celsius since preindustrial times and, according to a report released by the United Nations, it could rise by another half degree by 2030. This increase would be catastrophic for the environment, as the change in temperature could trigger changes in extreme weather conditions, sea level, animal populations, and many other predicted consequences. Moreover, researchers say that problems associated with global warming are coming closer to home. Recently, the warming effects of climate change have gone beyond the physical environment.

According to a published report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as cited on the website News-Medical, greenhouse emissions are at their highest at present and could only mean disaster. According to earlier predictions of scientists, a 2-degree Celcius rate in the earth’s temperature could have dangerous consequences. Recently, the rise in average monthly temperature has been tied to a small increase in mental health issues.

Mental Health Issues Rise As Temperature Rises

Changes in the environment, hotter temperatures, disasters, and added precipitation are all connected to an increased prevalence of mental health and experts warn that it could get worse as temperatures continue to rise, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.

Nick Obradovich, lead author of the study and a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, explained that climate change can affect suicide rates and has an effect on human moods. Moreover, exposure to heat can also worsen mental health issues.

In the study, CNN says that Obradovich and his team combined data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which included the self-reported personal mental health data of nearly two million randomly sampled US residents, with daily meteorological data from 2002 through 2012. They found there was a reported 0.5 percentage point increase in the probability of mental health issue in people who reported problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression during the months when the average temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius compared to the months when the temperature was between 25 and 30. This means that “people report more mental health problems when it’s really hot out,” said Dr. Obradovich.

The scientist also explained that they do not exactly know why an increase in temperature produces mental health problems. Also, Psychology Today said that the observational nature of the study means that any causal link between climate change and mental health could not be established. Even if the researchers could prove a causal connection, it would still not be exactly understood how one factor affects the other. “The finding isn’t definite, but it certainly suggests we should look further into that relationship,” he also added.

Possible Reasons Why Warmer Weather Could Lead To Worsened Mental Health

There are several possible reasons why warmer weather could lead to worsened mental health. Obradovich said that exposure to disasters and challenges that lead to loss of property or physical health have an effect that can be linked to mental health difficulties. However, connections between higher temperatures and poor mental health are likely more complex than they seem.

In their previous study, the team also found that more people tend to post negative emotions on social media more frequently when temperatures were hotter.  The team suggests that this could be a direct relationship between weather and mood.

More possibly, they also speculated that the connection could also have been something to do with sleep. In hotter seasons, people tend to have a hard time sleeping. The scientist said that repeated sleep deficiencies tend to produce all kinds of mental health problems and could be the reason behind the connection. Since increased temperatures have also been tied to decreased work productivity, it could be related to feelings of depression or work anxiety.

 

One of the possible reasons why warm weather worsens mental health is because individuals are having a hard time sleeping. / Photo by: Getty Images

 

Living in a natural disaster can also affect mental health, and scientists say that warmer temperatures are likely to mean more events such as heavy cyclones and floods. This angle was also looked into on their study. They found that those who experienced hurricane Katrina had a four percent greater risk of mental health problems compared to those in other regions.

In their study, the researchers noted that the main limitation of their research was that the data came from a developed nation and from temperate climates. They called for more studies in less temperate regions with inadequate resources and greater reliance on ecological systems, and predicted that these regions could have a greater impact of climate change on mental health.

To conclude their study, the scientist said, “Climate change is altering the normal environmental systems that we rely on for our societal well-being. It's an environmental issue. It's a public health issue. It's a national security issue. Unabated, it poses a grave threat to humanity.”

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