The Climate Crisis Is Also a Mental Health Crisis—Here’s How Psychology Can Help
Rising seas, monster storms, hotter summers, growing aridity: as if the environmental effects of climate change aren’t bad enough, the climate crisis is also a disaster for human health and well-being. Researchers have seen a rise in climate grief, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and depression, as well as rising interpersonal aggression and violence, impaired cognitive and brain function, premature births and low birth weight. The list goes on.
“Over just the past couple of years we’ve seen a rapid and much-needed shift in the recognition of the massive mental-health implications that climate change poses,” says Ezra Markowitz, professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst. “Policymakers, mental health organizations, the medical profession and even the general public are increasingly aware of the toll climate change takes on our health. But much more can and needs to be done to prepare. We’re already seeing these impacts and they are compounding pre-existing challenges and inequities in our mental health care system,” says Ezra Markowitz.
To help mitigate the effects of climate change on our health, The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released a report, titled “Addressing the Climate Crisis: An Action Plan for Psychologists” the result of 18 months’ worth of study by more than 20 researchers—including Markowitz.
“Psychologists must use their scientific understanding of human behavior to address climate change—and while many already are, more need to be engaged,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, and the CEO of the APA. “This report articulates actions our field can take and how we can collaborate outside of the field of psychology to have the greatest impact.”
Markowitz and the other members of the task force that produced the report spent months developing a targeted set of concrete recommendations based on their collective knowledge of the psychology of climate change. Working with a sub-group on the committee, Markowitz was particularly involved in crafting recommendations regarding improvements to communications efforts, both within and beyond the APA organization.
The report offered 12 recommendations, six for strengthening the field of psychology and six for broadening psychology’s impact. Those recommendations include:
- Advance research on climate change across all areas of psychological science.
- Build psychologists’ capacities to support people in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
- Incorporate coverage of climate change into all levels of psychology education.
- Engage in sustained advocacy on climate change to government at all levels and to business and nonprofit organizations.
- Serve as an important channel of information to psychologists about climate change and how they can contribute to effective climate action.
- Implement a strategic approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve sustainability across all of APA’s operations and in the psychological community.
- Promote engagement of psychological scientists with policymakers, practitioners and community members on climate change issues.
- Enlarge the range of settings and partnerships in which psychology practitioners address climate change.
- Promote coverage of the psychological dimensions of climate change in the education of other professionals and the public.
- Partner on climate advocacy with other scientific, professional, social justice, environmental and health organizations.
- Educate the public about the psychological dimensions of climate change and effective climate action.
- Engage with other organizations and the public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve sustainability practices.
“Although we often treat climate change as a technical, scientific or even economic issue, at its core it is a challenge of human behavior. That’s why psychologists and others who study how we make decisions and respond to threats—as individuals, in groups and organizations and as entire societies—must be at the table, sharing their expertise and insight to help move us all forward in the right direction as quickly, effectively and equitably as we can.”