Why climate change also negatively affects mental health

Why climate change also negatively affects mental health


Increasing temperatures can worsen mood and increase the risk of suicide

Climate change will not only affect the number of floods and the temperature of the planet.

It is also having an impact on mental health, warned a group of experts from the United States.

And according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we only have 12 years to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the most catastrophic effects of this change.

On Monday, the IPCC warned that failure to achieve this goal could lead to the extinction of coral reefs and hundreds of millions of people would be exposed to rising sea levels and more extreme weather events, among other threats.

And a study published that same day in the print version of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , also offered new and abundant evidence on the negative impact on mental health of changes in climate.

Previous studies have already shown that rising temperatures can alter sleep patterns, worsen moods and increase the risk of suicide.

But Professor Nick Obradovich, lead author of the study and research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wanted to see if extreme temperatures could also cause mental health problems such as stress, depression or anxiety.

Heat wave
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption Higher temperatures and higher precipitation rates coincided with periods of poorer mental health

For them, the researchers analyzed data on the mental health of about two million people in the United States, compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention between 2002 and 2012.

And the team compared the mental health data with the weather records during the same period to analyze if there was a relationship between extreme weather events and the mental health of the participants.

“It could be described as the largest public health monitoring survey in the world,” said Obradovich. “We collected data from about two million people for a decade.”

Heat and rain

The research team analyzed the data in three ways.

First, they observed temperatures and rainfall over a period of 30 days and compared them with the mental health of the respondents in that same period.

Hurricane Harvey
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption Aerial view of the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

“Higher temperatures and higher precipitation rates coincide with periods of poorer mental health ,” Obradovich said.

For example, months with at least 25 days of precipitation increased the likelihood of mental health problems by 2 percent, while an increase in average monthly temperatures to more than 30 degrees increased the probability of disorders by 0.5 percent. mental

The team then analyzed the weather and mental health reports for five years in different cities, and found that a rise in temperatures of 1 degree was related to a 2 increase in mental health problems.

Finally, the team reviewed the mental health reports of people affected by Hurricane Katrina and compared them with reports from people in similar cities who had not been affected by the hurricane.

People affected by Katrina were 4 percent more likely to suffer from mental problems.


According to Dr. Jonathan Patz, professor and director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Wisconsin, the study is consistent with his own research on heat waves and hospital admissions in Wisconsin over a 17-year period.

Patz and the co-authors of this study found that high temperatures increased hospital admissions for self-harm, including by attempted suicide.

The big question that remains to be answered is why this correlation.

Copyright of the AFP image
Image caption There are several reasons why extreme weather events are associated with greater mental health problems.

This is very important, since the answer to these problems will be very different if the negative effects of temperature increases are due to sleep interruptions or if temperatures also influence mental health and mood by other means.

“Being exposed to extreme weather conditions can cause stress, and this in turn leads to poor mental health,” speculates Professor Obradovich.

“Or maybe the high temperatures will lead you to reduce healthy behaviors like exercising and sleeping well, and this is what precipitates the mental problems,” he adds.

Concern about climate change itself, especially those living in coastal areas, could also affect the well-being of people.

“We do not know exactly why high temperatures cause mental health problems,” says Obradovich, “But what is clear is that it is a problem that will affect more and more people in the future .”

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