How does the environment affect Mental Health?



  • A frequently changing climate and disasters related to this frequent change can cause trauma and anxiety responses and can lead to chronic mental health disorders.


  • Flooding and droughts have been correlated to elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.


  • Not to mention, losses associated with environmental disasters, including loss of loved ones, loss of home or job, or being disconnected from the community can all lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression, an elevated startle response, and hyper-vigilance. 


  • Exposure to extreme heat has been associated with increased use of substances, such as alcohol, to cope, Increased mental health-related hospital visits, and increased suicides.


  • Temperature and pollution increases have also been associated with long-term impacts on cognitive functioning. 


  • Higher temperatures cause an increased risk of dehydration, hyperthermia, and heat stroke for people taking various classes of psychiatric medication. 


  • Anxiety and trauma-related symptoms arise from rapid and extreme environmental changes. Changes in weather and climate are included in this. Ecological grief, ecological anxiety, and solastalgia are all examples of this. 


We are seeing a myriad of social, cultural, health, and economic consequences of mass migration stimulated, in part, by global environmental disruption.



Who is affected by climate change?


Everyone. However, certain groups are more vulnerable than others.

  • Children

    • Children are more likely to have continued trauma-related symptoms after a disaster than are adults.
    • Disruptions in daily routines often caused by disasters can increase child distress and anxiety.
    • Separation from primary caregivers due to disaster can increase separation anxiety and fear of abandonment.
    • Parental stress can increase child distress.  
  • Elderly

    • Changes in the body associated with aging, such as muscle and bone loss, can limit mobility.
    • Older adults are also more likely to have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, that requires medications for treatment.
    • Some older adults, especially those with disabilities, may also need assistance with daily activities.
    • Climate change increases the contamination risk for sources of drinking water and recreational water. Older adults are at high risk of contracting gastrointestinal illnesses from contaminated water. Those already in poor health are more likely to suffer severe health consequences including death.
  • Chronically Ill

    • Individuals with respiratory conditions are more likely to be negatively affected by exposure to poor air quality than those without these conditions.
    • Certain medications may also impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature or maintain fluid or electrolyte balances.
    • First Responders & Emergency Workers
    • These individuals are likely to be both responders and victims of the disaster and have to manage responding to the disaster while also managing a high-stress environment when off of the clock.
    • These individuals are often exposed to injury and death while responding to a disaster which can lead to short-term and long-term negative impacts.


    • People with various mobile impairments often have to rely on others to get to safety during extreme weather events leading them to be at a higher risk.
  • Pregnant Women & Post-Partum Women

    • Air pollutants can cause respiratory illness in pregnant women and also lead to low birth weight or pre-term birth.
    • Poor nutrition and diarrhea from contaminated water or food have been linked to negative birth outcomes such as low birth weight. Floods can lead to an increase in exposure to toxins and mold.
    • Pregnant women and women who have recently given birth (postpartum) are at an increased risk for severe stress and other negative mental health outcomes due to weather-related disasters associated with climate change. Severe maternal stress can increase risk of negative outcomes such as pre-term birth.
  • People with Mental Illness

    • Higher temperatures cause an increased risk of dehydration, hyperthermia, and heat stroke for people taking various classes of psychiatric medication.
    • People living with mental illness are also more likely to live in poverty or to have co-occurring substance use disorders, which makes it harder for them to cope or adapt to changes.
    • People with mental illness are more likely to rely on community resources which are often directly impacted by disasters.
  • People of Low Socioeconomic Status

    • These individuals may not have access to air conditioning or heating during extreme weather.
    • These individuals may live in infrastructure not built to last in extreme weather conditions.
    • These individuals may not have the ability to stock up on food, toiletries, or other necessary items due to limited finances leading up to a disaster.
  • The Homeless Population

    • These individuals have little to no access to physically safe environments during extreme weather.
    • These individuals often rely on community resources which are often directly impacted by disasters.


Long-Term Effects of Climate Change on Mental Health


“Many potential long-term impacts of climate change, such as population migration, food scarcity, loss of employment, and loss of social support, have consequences for mental health.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, population migration linked to climate change is already happening. Each year since 2008, an average of more than 20 million people are forced to move because of weather-related events, such as floods, storms, wildfires, or extreme temperatures. Many others are leaving their homes because of slower-moving events, such as droughts or coastal erosion.

Mental health can also be affected by other impacts of climate change, including food scarcity or food quality issues, potential increases in diseases transmitted by insects (such as Lyme disease and malaria) and air pollution.”

An Illustration on How Climate Change Impacts Physical, Mental, and Community Health

How Extreme Weather Events Affect Mental Health


How providers of care to persons with mental health disorders can help: 


  • Develop effective disaster preparedness plans and systems in all health care facilities.
    • Practice emergency disaster drills at least once per quarter.
    • Fire
    • Earthquake
    • Flood
    • Medical Emergency
    • Lockdown
    • Gunman


  • Make sure to understand the gas, water, and electric systems at your facility. Have a backup plan! Disasters rarely, if ever go as expected, planned, or practiced; know what to do if your initial plan fails.


  • Create greater psychiatric disaster response capacity in all communities and incorporate that capacity within the existing emergency response and public health disaster planning systems.


  • Develop and promote health system practices, guidelines, and incentives to reduce excessive carbon consumption and other environmentally harmful impacts, many of which are already being adopted and are having a major effect.


  • Reduce or eliminate unnecessary professional travel and use telecommunication services to connect providers and clients in different locations.
    • Zoom (Business Associate Agreement Contract only)
    • Doxy.Me
    • Corti
    • TheraNest
    • VSee
    • Medici
    • SimplePractice


  • Participate in developing public health preparedness for the ongoing risks and consequences of climate change at the community level. This might include having your practice participate in a local beach clean-up, community garden, etc.


  • Participate in the improvement and expansion of risk communication practices to incorporate an understanding of the mental and emotional aspects required to effectively inform and motivate the public to act in timely and appropriate ways to various disaster scenarios.