Mental health – unseen casualty of climate change

Doctors for the Environment Australia

Mental health – the unseen casualty of climate change

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) congratulates the Royal Australasian College of Physicians Congress 2022 “A Climate of Change”, the New South Wales Australian Medical Association and a series of Climate Change and Mental Health events at RANZCP 2022 for focusing on the crucial mental health impacts of climate change and collaborating across health professions.

The unprecedented focus of medical and health conferences with mental health impacts of climate change in Australia all within a week reflects the urgency of the problem in 2022 and the need for the community and Government policy on protecting health from climate change to reflect this.

Many Australians are not yet aware of the serious and wide-reaching impacts of climate change on mental health, particularly the link between extreme heat and increased mental health emergency presentations, hospitalisations and suicide.

“Mental health harm from extreme heat comes from getting too hot physically – and is unrelated to what you think about climate change,” says Dr Cybele Dey child and adolescent psychiatrist and DEA representative.

Doctors and other health professionals have a responsibility to be educated themselves and to correct misinformation and misunderstandings about important impacts on mental health, including those of climate change, so that people can make informed decisions about their mental health. The recent focus on climate change and mental health begins to address this.

“Clinicians working with individuals and communities experiencing climate distress know there is a need for climate education, along with evidence-based frameworks for assessment and management which avoid pathologising rational distress whilst correctly identifying individuals where the distress is leading to clinically significant illness,” says general practitioner and DEA member Dr Anna Seth.

Recently, much of the media attention about climate change and mental health has included misinformation where young people’s climate distress is misattributed to climate activism, rather than accurately described as a valid response to the reality of climate change.

In fact, according to Dr Dey, “the evidence shows that 57% of young people feel betrayed by governments’ lack of effective action on climate change. Leaders avoiding or distracting from the issue actually worsens climate distress.”

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