Health Care

Climate change threatens mental health

Study gives depressing look at how climate change puts Americans’ mental health at risk

"Short-term exposure to more extreme weather, multiyear warming, and tropical cyclone exposure each associate with worsened mental health", MIT researchers found.

Earlier this month, the United Nations issued a dire warning: If we do not change our behaviors and energy consumption soon, it could have a damning effect.

Half of all mental disorders begin at the adolescent age - before the age of 14 - but most cases go undetected and untreated, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Worldwide, it is estimated that one in five adolescents experience mental health challenges, though most remain under-diagnosed and untreated. The team then correlated this with the climate changes and noted that when monthly temperatures averaged over 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit or more, the mental health problems also soared when compared to temperatures around 10 to 15 degrees Celsius (50-59 degrees Fahrenheit).

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, one study led by Stanford University economist Marshall Burke found that a 1.8-degree Fahrenheit increase in monthly average temperature causes a 0.7 percent increase in suicide rates in the US and 2.1 percent increase in Mexico. Based on this data, the researchers at Stanford University linked the temperature to a higher rate of depressive tweets and an increase in suicides in both the U.S. and Mexico. "For example, is poor sleep due to hot temperatures the thing that produces mental health problems?" They said they singled out this type of natural disaster because climate change is expected to make these storms more frequent and more intense. In addition, they also reported that a 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperature was associated with a 2 percentage point increased prevalence of mental health issues.

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And another study - looking at 17 years of data from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on heat waves and hospital admissions - also found an increase of people coming to the hospital for "self-harm" during warmer times of the year.

Finally, the team considered the toll of hurricanes on mental health. Meanwhile, months with an increase of precipitation can increase the probability of mental health issues by 2 percent.

Tarun Dua, mental health expert at WHO, explained: "Half of mental health disorders arise before the age of 14". In a new study, researchers found that along with increasing global temperatures comes a corresponding increase in mental-health issues.

"The most important point of this [new] study is that climate change, indeed, is affecting mental health, and certain populations (women and the poor) are disproportionally impacted", Patz, who called for more research on climate change, wrote in an email.