science of us

Climate Change Is Bad for Our Mental Health

Photo: Henrik5000/Getty Images

Days after a particularly devastating report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — in which scientists warned we should expect “massive food shortages, endless wildfires, and coastal flooding” by the year 2040 should current policies go unchallenged — there is even more bad climate change news. In a new study, researchers found that along with increasing global temperatures comes a corresponding increase in mental-health issues.

The study’s lead author, Nick Obradovich, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, told CNN it’s not totally clear why increasing temperatures result in increasing mental-health issues, but the data is clear. Using recent national meteorological data as well as mental health data from the CDC, the study’s authors found that a one-degree Celsius increase in average temperature was linked to a two percentage point increase in the public prevalence of mental-health issues over a five-year period.

Especially significant given the dire U.N. climate change report is the authors’ finding that people affected by Hurricane Katrina had a 4 percent higher prevalence of mental-health issues than people in comparably sized communities who had not experienced a natural disaster. The researchers were also able to determine that the people most vulnerable to these consequences were women with lower incomes and previous mental-health issues.

This study echoes (and builds upon) previous research that found an association between heat waves (which are expected to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change) and increased hospital admissions for self-harm and other health concerns. The author of that study, Dr. Jonathan Patz, a professor and director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told CNN that, if anything, he expects the newer study underestimates the “stress and despair” likely to be caused by government inaction in the face of climate change.

Climate Change Is Bad for Our Mental Health