And skepticism is a “psychological defense mechanism.”
… As the climate shifts, nations will have to increasingly contend with issues like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with changes in infectious disease patterns and air quality.
“It will be a reframing of [climate change] that will be useful. It should move from being an ‘environmental issue’ to something that’s directly linked to human health and well-being,” said Thomas Doherty, a professor at the Lewis and Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling and a practicing psychologist. He co-authored a paper earlier this year on mental health and climate change in the journal American Psychologist.
Doherty noted that climate change and psychology are both complex fields, but many individuals have an intuitive grasp of how they interact.
“Consider how the climate typically affects people’s health and well-being through seasonal changes. We feel differently about seasons, and people feel changes in their lifestyle” as days get shorter and temperatures drop, explained Doherty. “We’re tied into the environment at all times, even though in modern times we spend most of our time indoors. We’ve got our own biology and internal clock and our physiological systems are attuned to light.”
“When we throw climate disruption into the mix, we get disaster psychology,” said Doherty, explaining that hurricanes and cyclones can cause physical injuries as well as mental distress from experiencing violence. A 2008 study by the Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group said that after the hurricane, severe mental illness rates nearly doubled, rising from 6.1 percent to 11.3 percent for problems like depression, PTSD, anxiety disorder, panic disorder and various phobias.
Mild and moderate mental illness rates also increased, from 9.7 percent to 19.9 percent. Even one year after the storm, mental illness rates rose around New Orleans, defying previous disaster trends of mental illnesses decreasing over time, according to a 2008 study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Though the physical harm from large disasters is limited to those in the immediate region, the mental effects can spread farther. “We’re almost experiencing these things in real time because of the proliferation of technology, almost as if we are there,” said Doherty. “It’s like 9/11: A lot of people felt traumatized by watching those events through their TV screens.”
However, gradual climate changes can also affect mental health. “When the climate shifts or the pattern that people are used to over generations shifts, that impacts people,” said Doherty.
“We may have anxiety about weather shifts because of our jobs and livelihoods”…