When we talk about the impacts of climate change, we usually focus on the extreme weather events it causes, as well as changes in the environment such as melting glaciers and rising temperatures. It also has another harmful effect that’s harder to see. Global warming could have a negative impact on mental health, studies suggest.
The Connection Between Climate Change and Mental Health
A study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found those impacts could be quite serious. The paper compared India’s suicide data with data on its agricultural yield and temperature changes, and found a correlation between rising temperatures and increased levels of suicides by farmers.
Climate change could be responsible for more than 59,000 farmer suicides in India over the past three years, according to the study.
The paper found that for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit the temperature rose above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, India experienced an average of 67 more suicides.
Rising temperatures can lead to lower crop yields for farmers in India, some of whom still rely completely on rainfall to water their crops. Extreme weather events, which have increased as climate change has gotten worse, can damage crops and farm equipment.
These issues lead to lower incomes for farmers, threaten their livelihoods and limit their ability to take care of their families. This can cause a loss of identity, sadness and depression and ultimately suicide.
Other factors make India’s farmers especially susceptible to suicide. They have access to self-harm methods. For example, many have died by drinking pesticides. They may also have a lack of mental health services and community support.
Some farmers have likely committed suicide as a means of getting their families out of debt. In some cases, India’s government will provide financial assistance to the families left behind by suicide, but not to families who are struggling to get by but haven’t lost a family member.
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India isn’t the only place where climate change is affecting mental health. All around the world, farmers, fishermen and others who depend on nature to make a living are experiencing similar financial difficulties and strains on their mental health.
Extreme weather events made worse by climate change can have a more acute mental health impact. People who see their communities destroyed and see people killed are likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems. People in these areas are also likely to experience financial difficulties.
In the area affected by Hurricane Katrina, suicide and suicidal thoughts more than doubled, one in six people developed PTSD and almost half developed a mood or anxiety disorder after the disaster, one report found.
What We Can Do
In India, farmers are working to bring awareness to their plight. Hundreds of them are participating in a 100-day protest in New Delhi to help prevent suicide among farmers. Protests like this are relatively common, with past demonstrations calling for better crop prices, more loan waivers and water delivery systems to help with irrigation.
The Indian government is considering legislation that would subsidize crop insurance to reduce the financial risk taken on by farmers. However, government officials have paid little attention to mental health issues.
To address problems like these, we need to take a serious look at both climate change and mental health. We should do everything we can to reduce the impacts of climate change, but changes will take a long time to take effect. In the meantime, mental health will continue to be a major concern.
Increased access to mental health care, improved education on the topic and spreading awareness of the problem could help stop people from reaching a point where they feel suicide is the best option.
This problem is a serious one that will take a two-pronged approach to tackle. By addressing both mental health and global warming, we may be able to make a difference in the lives of those adversely affected by climate change.