Unseen casualty of climate change

While the physical impacts of climate change can be seen, experts warn that climate change is also having serious and wide-reaching impacts on mental health.

Experts say there is a link between extreme heat, for example, and increased mental health emergency presentations, hospitalisations, and even suicide.

“Mental health harm from extreme heat comes from getting too hot physically – and is unrelated to what you think about climate change,” says Dr Cybele Dey child and adolescent psychiatrist and Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) representative.

The DEA says health professionals need to be educated on the impacts of climate change on mental health.

They say that it’s important for health professionals to also correct misinformation and misunderstandings about the important impacts on mental health, including those of climate change so that people can make informed decisions about their mental health.

The recent medical and health conferences that have paid particular attention to climate change and mental health, including the 2022 Royal Australasian College of Physicians Congress, begin to address this, says the DEA.

The DEA says that this focus also reflects the urgency of the problem in 2022 and the need for Government policy around protecting health from climate change to reflect the impacts of climate change on mental health.

“Clinicians working with individuals and communities experiencing climate distress know there is a need for climate education, along with evidence-based frameworks for assessment and management, which avoid pathologising rational distress while correctly identifying individuals where the distress is leading to clinically significant illness,” says general practitioner and DEA member Dr Anna Seth. 

If you’re experiencing mental health concerns, please reach out to your healthcare provider or Lifeline (13 11 14) for support. In the case of emergency call 000 or visit your nearest Emergency Department. 

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