Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and psychosocial well-being: WHO


In the 5 decades between 1970 and 2020, climate-related hazards have increased, with 50% of all events occurring since 2003 and nearly 5 billion people in total affected.

New Delhi: Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being, as per the new WHO’s  Mental Health and Climate Change:  policy brief, which was launched at the Stockholm+50 conference on Friday.

The world health agency also urged countries to include mental health support in their response to the climate crisis.

The findings concur with a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in February this year.

The IPCC, in its 6th assessment report, states, with very high confidence, that Climate-related illnesses, premature deaths, malnutrition in all its forms, and threats to mental health and wellbeing are increasing.

It also identifies that, at the global level, health systems are poorly resourced, and their capacity to respond to climate change is weak, with mental health support being particularly inadequate

“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, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO.

“The mental health impacts of climate change are unequally distributed with certain groups disproportionately affected depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, and age” the agency said in a statement.

However, it is clear that climate change affects many of the social determinants that are already leading to massive mental health burdens globally.

A 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries found that only 9 have thus far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change 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 of 4 do not have access to needed services” said DévoraKestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

 “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” she said

The new WHO policy brief recommends five important approaches for governments to address the mental health impacts of climate change: integrate climate considerations with mental health programmes; integrate mental health support with climate action; build upon global commitments; develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities; and close the large funding gap that exists for mental health and psychosocial support.

“WHO’s the Member States have made it very clear mental health is a priority for them. We are working closely with countries to protect people’s physical and mental health from climate threats,” said Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO climate lead, and an IPCC lead author. 

The Stockholm Conference commemorates the 50th anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment and recognizes the importance of environmental determinants for both physical and mental health.


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