A new UN report shows how climate change is already wreaking havoc our mental health

We’ve known this all along, but it’s the first time the report has actually acknowledged it.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2022/02/01: A police officer stands next to a 'Climate Emergency' placard d...
SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Originally Published: 

At this point, we know that climate change is going to take its toll on the planet and, in turn, on us. But for the first time, the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has acknowledged that as the planet warms and we are trapped in increasingly terrible weather conditions, it’s going to have a serious effect on our mental health. In fact, it’s already happening.

On Monday, the UN’s working group of more than 270 scientists from around the world published their most recent findings of the impact of climate change and humanity’s fight against the ongoing crisis. The findings were not encouraging — though the report is more encompassing than ever before. The experts, for the first time, stated that they believe climate change has adversely affected the mental health of people in regions that have already dealt with worsening weather conditions. Specifically, the report found that people — but particularly children, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions — are expected to experience increased stress and anxiety as the planet warms.

The reason, put simply: The Earth is going to become a more stressful place to live. More instances of extreme weather will put more people under the constant threat of losing their homes and livelihoods. Floods and wildfires present the risk of wiping out existing infrastructure. Worsening conditions will likely strain ecosystems and agriculture systems, increasing the risk of food insecurity.

Previous research has found that climate change presents unique challenges for people who deal with mental health issues. A study published by Cambridge University found that people with certain mental health conditions like dementia and substance misuse could see an increase in the risk of death by as much as 5% for each increase in temperature of one degree Celsius.

The UN’s report warns that in order to reduce these risks, we’ll need to better monitor the mental wellbeing of people who are experiencing the worst affects of climate change and try to extend access to care for them. But within that recommendation is a difficult pill to swallow: This is the reality now, and we have to try to just mitigate the harm.