Why mental health is a priority for action on climate change – World Health Organization

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New WHO policy brief highlights actions for countries

Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being, concludes  a new THAT policy brief , launched today at the  Stockholm+50 conference . The Organization is therefore urging countries to include mental health support in their response in order to the climate crisis, citing examples where a few pioneering countries have done this effectively.

The findings concur with a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in February this year. The IPPC revealed that rapidly increasing climate change poses a rising threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being; from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behavior.

“The impacts of climate change are increasingly part of our daily lives, and there is very little dedicated psychological health support available for people and communities dealing with climate-related hazards and long-term risk, ” said  Dr  Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change plus Health at WHO.

The mental health impacts of climate change are unequally distributed with certain groups disproportionately affected depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender and age. However , it is clear that climate change affects many of the social determinants that are usually already leading to massive mental health burdens globally. A 2021  WHO survey   of 95 countries found that only 9 have thus far included mental health insurance and psychosocial support in their national health and climate modify plans.  

“The impact of weather change is compounding the particular already extremely challenging situation for mental health plus mental health services globally. There are nearly 1 billion people living with psychological health conditions, yet in low- and middle-income countries, 3 out of 4 do not have access to needed services, ” said  Dévora   Kestel, Director of the Department associated with Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “By ramping up mental into the psychological support within disaster risk reduction and climate action, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk. ”

The new WHO policy brief recommends 5 important approaches with regard to governments to address the mental health impacts of climate change:  

  • integrate environment considerations with mental wellness programmes;
  • integrate mental health support along with climate action;
  • build upon global commitments;
  • develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities; and
  • close the large funding gap that exists for mental health and psychosocial support.

“WHO’s Member States have made it very clear mental health will be a priority for them. We are working closely with countries to protect people’s physical and mental wellness from climate threats, ” said  Dr  Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO climate lead, and an IPCC lead author.  

Some good examples exist associated with how this can be done such as in the particular Philippines, which has rebuilt and improved its mental health services after the impact of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 or within India, where a national project has scaled up disaster risk reduction in the country while also preparing cities to respond to climate risks plus address mental health and psychosocial needs.  

The Stockholm Conference commemorates the 50th anniversary of the UN Meeting on the Human Environment and recognizes the importance of environmental determinants regarding both physical and psychological health.

Note to editors

WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being within which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope along with the stresses of life, can work productively plus fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

WHO identifies mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) as “any type of local or outside support that aims to protect or promote psychological well-being and/or prevent or even treat mental disorder”.

For more information please contact:

WHO media inquiries: [email protected]

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