The agency said climate change poses serious risks to people’s mental health and well-being, consistent with a report published in February by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body that provides governments with scientific information to inform their climate policy.
An IPCC study has shown that rapid climate change is a growing threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being since emotional stress to anxiety, depression, griefas well as suicidal behavior.
“The impacts of climate change are increasingly part of our daily lives, and there is very little specialized mental health support available to individuals and communities facing climate-related hazards and long-term risks.” saidDr. Maria Neira, Director WHODepartment of Environment, Climate Change and Health.
The effects of climate change on mental health are unevenly distributed: ccertain groups disproportionately affected depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender and age, according to brief.
However, the WHO said it is clear that climate change is affecting many social determinants that are already leading to a major mental health burden worldwide. From 95 countries survey last yearonly nine have included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate action plans.
Protecting people at risk
“The impact of climate change is exacerbating an already extremely difficult situation for mental health and mental health services around the world. There is almost one billion people living with mental disordershowever, in low- and middle-income countries, three out of four do not have access to the services they need,” said Devora Kestel, Director of the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
“By strengthening mental health and psychosocial support for disaster risk reduction and climate change, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk,” she added.
The policy brief recommends five important approaches for governments to address the mental health impacts of climate change, as well as examples of countries that have already made progress on this issue.
Mental Health Priority
WHO has urged governments to integrate climate issues into mental health programmes, integrate mental health support with climate change action and build on their global commitments.
Authorities must also develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerability and close the large funding gap that currently exists for mental health and psychosocial support.
“WHO Member States have made it clear that mental health is a priority for them. We are working closely with countries to protect people’s physical and mental health from climate threats,” said Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO climate chief and IPCC lead author.
Among the pioneer countries mentioned in the report is the Philippines, which rebuilt and improved its mental health services after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, reportedly one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.
India has also scaled up disaster risk reduction while preparing cities to respond to climate risks and address mental health and psychosocial needs.
The WHO policy brief was published on the last day Stockholm summitdedicated to the 50th anniversary of the founding United Nations Conference on the Human Environment the first world conference to make the environment a major issue.