Aus Psychologists Warn of Mental Health Crisis Amid Climate Disasters

Australian Psychological Society

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) is urging action as more frequent and intense disasters continue to have an impact on the nation’s mental health.

In its 2023 Pre-Budget Submission, the APS has called on the Federal Government to commit to urgently funding more mental health and psychological response services which is aligned with confronting figures revealed in a Climate Council survey investigating the impact of climate disasters on the mental health of Australians.

Conducted in December 2022, the Climate Council survey of 2,032 Australians showed that since 2019, the majority (80%) reported they had experienced an extreme weather event such as heatwaves, flooding, and bushfires.

Half said their mental health had been detrimentally affected by the extreme weather event they experienced and one in five reported a major or moderate impact. The most common mental health concerns were anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Shockingly, more than one-third of survey participants (37%) said there was not enough mental health support available to them.

APS President Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe said climate change, COVID-19 and other natural disasters are affecting many Australians, not only those on the frontline when a crisis hits.

“As a society, we need to acknowledge climate change is causing significant levels of distress for many Australians.”

“The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a “code red for humanity”, now psychologists are issuing a code red for climate distress and eco-anxiety.

“Evidence shows that mental ill-health affects not just those who directly experience a disaster, but also the frontline workers and first responders who care for and support them, as well as the wider community as it makes its way towards longer-term recovery.”

“We also know that young Australians are deeply concerned, and at times overwhelmed by uncertainty associated with the climate crisis.

“Supporting our young people must be a national priority. We can do this with prevention and early intervention programs aimed at building their resilience, enhancing coping strategies and providing a sense of optimism for the future.

Dr Davis-McCabe said there is a growing need to scale up a disaster-ready psychology workforce to better support preventative actions and early interventions in disaster-prone communities, and in response to the increasing number of severe climate-related events occurring in Australia.

“We need to strengthen resilience in our communities by improving our disaster preparedness and response, whilst also focusing on building optimism and confidence in our children and young people through better mental health.”

“The shocking effects of climate change are going to escalate as the planet continues to warm, we need to take action now.”

To fix this crisis the APS is calling on the Federal Government to:

  • Invest in the development of new APS-led programs providing psychosocial support to school-aged children, their families, and carers.
  • Develop nationally consistent prevention and early intervention programs as well as measures for students’ psychosocial wellbeing.
  • Expand the successful APS Disaster Response Network of 700+ psychologists who volunteer their time and expertise to provide targeted and evidence-based psychological support to frontline workers and communities following disasters.

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