A moving story

Climate change affects people’s mental as well as physical health

As well as causing physical harm through injuries, malnutrition and infections, climate change can also harm people’s mental health. Mental trauma following the loss of one’s home, livelihood or loved ones will inevitably lead to more anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People in low- and middle-income countries have very little access to mental health treatments. There is little evidence of what would work best or how therapy could be delivered to large numbers of people. It is also unclear what sort of therapy would be appropriate – Western treatments may not be suitable for different cultures.

Heads up

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Across the world more than 800,000 people take their own lives each year.

While there is no way of knowing what proportion of these are influenced by the effects of climate change, the numbers are stark.

Yet mental health tends to be low on the lists of priorities of governments and NGOs. As a result, WHO says we are facing a global human rights emergency in mental health.

The Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 shows what kind of impact environmental disasters can have. Research suggests that 57 per cent of tsunami victims were suffering post-traumatic stress six weeks after the disaster.

In 2011 Australian researchers found that climate-related disasters can have a major impact on the mental health of those affected.

More positively, the response to the tsunami in a number of countries included a mental health element, and benefits have been documented in several communities. Planning for mental trauma can form a part of preparing for climate change. Indeed, the tsunami has been a spur to many affected countries to put in place plans for emergency mental healthcare responses.


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Psychology, Neuroscience, Ecology and environment, Health, infection and disease
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development