How climate change impacts mental health, could increase suicide rates

By Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Developmental Public Health, Université de Montréal, Professor of Climate Change and Mental Health, University of Sydney and Marie-Curie and CIHR Postdoctoral Fellow, McGill University.

 

Extreme heat has gripped the northern hemisphere in recent months, and the year 2018 is on track to be among the hottest ever recorded. Higher global temperatures are expected to have detrimental effects on our natural environments and our physical health, but what will they do to our mental health?

New research from an international team of scientists suggests that one of the most tangible impacts may be an increase in suicide rates.

Suicide is already among the leading causes of death worldwide. For people aged 15-55 years, it is among the top five causes of death. Worldwide nearly one million people die by suicide each year — more than all deaths from war and murder combined.

Using historical temperature records from the United States and Mexico, the researchers showed that suicide rates increased by 0.7 per cent in the U.S. and by 2.1 per cent in Mexico when the average monthly temperatures rose by 1 C.

The researchers calculated that if global temperatures continue to rise at these rates, between now and 2050 there could be 9,000 to 40,000 additional suicides in the U.S. and Mexico alone. This is roughly equivalent to the number of additional suicides that follow an economic recession.

Spikes during heat waves

It has been known for a long time that suicide rates spike during heat waves. Hotter weather has been linked with higher rates of hospital admissions for self-harm, suicide and violent suicides, as well as increases in population-level psychological distress, particularly in combination with high humidity.

Another recent study, which combined the results of previous research on heat and suicide, concluded there is “a significant and positive association between temperature rises and incidence of suicide.”

Why this is remains unclear. There is a well-documented link between rising temperatures and interpersonal violence and suicide could be understood as an act of violence directed at oneself. Lisa Page, a researcher in psychology at King’s College London, notes:

“While speculative, perhaps the most promising mechanism to link suicide with high temperatures is a psychological one. High temperatures have been found to lead individuals to behave in a more disinhibited, aggressive and violent manner, which might in turn result in an increased propensity for suicidal acts.”

Hotter temperatures are taxing on the body. They cause an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, reduce sleep quality and disrupt people’s physical activity routines. These changes can reduce well-being and increase psychological distress.

Disease, water shortages, conflict and war

The effects of hotter temperatures on suicides are symptomatic of a much broader and more expansive problem: the impact of climate change on mental health.

Climate change will increase the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, storms, floods and wildfires. It will extend the range of infectious diseases such as Zika virus, malaria and Lyme disease. It will contribute to food and water shortages and fuel forced migration, conflict and war.

These events can have devastating effects on people’s health, homes and livelihoods and directly impact psychological health and well-being.

But effects are not limited to people who suffer direct losses — for example, it has been estimated that up to half of Hurricane Katrina survivors developed post-traumatic stress disorder even when they had suffered no direct physical losses.

The feelings of loss that follow catastrophic events, including a sense of loss of safety, can erode community well-being and further undermine mental health resilience.

Building resilience through community

Scientists caution that there are no quick fixes.

Vigorous greenhouse gas reduction strategies will reduce the chance of dangerous runaway climate change and help mitigate the worst effects of climate change on mental health, but these efforts may not be sufficient.

Installing more air conditioning units, for instance, may not significantly reduce suicide rates or mitigate the effects of extreme heat on health and well-being. Adaptation, including substantial investment in mental health services, will be essential.

Unfortunately mental health services remain woefully underfunded and over-burdened in most parts of the world. While government budgets are stretched to cope with front-line disaster relief, communities will bear the burden of responding to these challenges.

Building resilience through increased social connectedness within and between communities will be vital.

Research is a matter of life and death

Mental health problems have diverse manifestations that vary across contexts and throughout a lifetime. They are the result of long and intricate causal pathways. Climate change is not an isolated cause of suicide, but one of several factors.

Integrating these pathways into a conceptual framework — for example using systems thinking — is a crucial step toward developing public policy, practice and research that will equip us to respond to climate change.

Climate change is a daunting global public health challenge without ready solutions and we have been far too slow to take the risks seriously. We have also missed promising opportunities to use climate change as a mechanism to promote improved mental health.

There is an urgent need for research that informs our understanding of the mental health consequences of climate change so that we can prepare for the challenges ahead.

For some, it really is a matter of life or death.

International suicide prevention and support hotlines can be found here.The Conversation

Francis Vergunst, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Developmental Public Health, Université de Montréal; Helen Louise Berry, Professor of Climate Change and Mental Health, University of Sydney, and Massimiliano Orri, Marie-Curie and CIHR Postdoctoral Fellow, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Content

Op-Ed: Now is the time to put climate change on the African Union’s agenda: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Africa must lead with people-centered climate action, argues Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

#MiningIndaba2020: MD of Menar, Vuslat Bayoglu on realising investment opportunities in African mining

On the side-lines of the ongoing African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa, Managing Director of Menar, Vuslat Bayoglu highlights the importance of sustainable technology in the midst of the climate change crisis faced by Africa. He also spoke briefly on optimising growth and investment in the digitised mining economy and the key to success in monetising companies to develop an eye for identifying promising opportunities in the mining sector and converting them into profitably businesses. He spoke to CNBC Africa’s Chris Bishop for more.

World Economic Forum: President Akufo-Addo on Ghana’s response strategy for climate change

Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo says the country’s national budget reflects its commitment towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He made this remark while speaking on Ghana’s climate change strategy, economic transformation and more at a press conference in the ongoing World Economic Forum in Davos.

How climate change is threatening food security & peace in the Horn of Africa

The last decade was the warmest on record as a result of climate change and the horn of Africa is one the regions that have been hit the most. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, people in Ethiopia, Somalia, and other parts of Eastern Africa are increasingly caught between deadly extremes weather conditions in addition to violence. Julien Lerisson, Head of ICRC Delegation in Ethiopia joins CNBC Africa for more.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox

More from CNBC Africa

BFA Asset Management on Angola’s annual budget outlook

Chinese debt relief given to emerging markets that are facing the pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic may pose some threats to countries that already have vast amounts of debt owing to facilities. Joining CNBC Africa to unpack debt relief implications for Angola and Mozambique and as well as the Angolan annual budget outlook is Rui Oliveira, CEO at BFA Asset Management.

L’Oreal’s Hlengiwe Mathenjwa on how Covid-19 has impacted the beauty & skincare industry

The 111 year old French beauty giant L’Oreal has appointed Hlengiwe Mathenjwa as the new director of its largest manufacturing facility in the Africa and Middle East region. This appointment comes amid the Covid-19 storm that is ravishing most industries globally, Hlengiwe Mathenjwa joins CNBC Africa for more.

COVID-19 lock-down: How the Gauteng government plans to safely reopen schools

Since the gradual opening of the economy after lock-down there has been a sharp incline of COVID-19 cases. The government has the task of balancing the health of the people with keeping the economy going and opening the schools. How is the Gauteng provincial government helping? The Gauteng MEC for education is laying out the plans to welcome back school goers....

COVID-19: Rwandan bound containers held at Mombasa port

Over 2000 Rwanda bound containers of goods have been held in Kenya and Tanzania due to the delays in cargo clearance. According to Rwanda's Private Sector Federation, the move contradicts a comprehensive regional COVID-19 approach that was agreed on in dealing with the challenges of the virus on the cross-border businesses between member states. Economic Analyst, Ted Kaberuka joins CNBC Africa for more.

Partner Content

Maktech’s Godwin Makyao: Now Is A Time of Entrepreneurial Opportunity in East Africa

As an executive decision-maker in both the telecommunications and tourism industries, Godwin Makyao could not have experienced a more diverse set of...

Sanlam launches urgent job-preservation initiative in response to COVID-19

Sanlam Investments is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through large-scale support of the recovery of South African companies, from small enterprises to...

Trending Now

Kenyan sports minister Amina Mohamed to bid for top WTO job

The Geneva-based body is seeking a replacement for Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo who is stepping down a year early at the end of August at a critical juncture for the trade watchdog.

COMMENT: COVID_19 – Crazy times call for crazy measures

On the 10th of September, 2001 – you could walk up to an airline counter, buy a ticket with no ID, walk straight through to the gate, get on a plane, pop into the cockpit to say hi to the captain, and within reason do what you wanted.

How COVID-19 could condemn millions of Africans into extreme poverty

The African Development Bank says an additional 49 million Africans could be pushed into extreme poverty by the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. This was in the updated forecast of the Africa Economic Outlook, where they expect Central Africa and West Africa to be the hardest-hit regions. Kayode Akindele, Partner at TIA Capital joins CNBC Africa for more.

Implement substantive reforms, Paris Club creditors tell Zimbabwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe should implement sustainable political and economic reforms and successfully complete an IMF monitoring programme in order to normalise...
- Advertisement -