You may be wondering what the link is between climate change and mental health?  After all, how can one impact the other?
The WHO (World Health Organisation) indicates that climate change represents a significant risk to mental health. In addition to impacting our planet, these changes will have an impact on anxiety, depression, violence and post-traumatic stress..

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    1. HOW CLIMATE CAN IMPACT OUR MENTAL HEALTH ?

    • Eco-Anxiety / Solastalgia

    The first people affected by this impact are those who have the most knowledge about climate change. Thus, young people or those working in the climate field are particularly impacted.

    You may have heard the terms eco-anxiety and solastalgia. Both terms are closely related, even used in the same way. However, we can slightly differentiate them.

    Eco-anxiety has been a term used since the 1990s, while the concept of solastalgia emerged around 2003. Eco-anxiety can be defined as a distress related to the projection of climate warming into the future and anxiety related to its evolution and changes.

    Similarly to eco-anxiety, solastalgia primarily focuses on the depressive symptoms caused by environmental/climatic changes.

    Therapeutic Management :

    As mentioned earlier, climate change has a significant impact on anxiety and depression. Thus, therapeutic support may be necessary to help people manage their anxiety-related emotions. Virtual reality can be used to expose patients to situations that cause them anxiety or remind them of climate issues. During these exposures, the therapist provides the patient with tools for emotion management.

    • Post-Traumatic Stress

    Climate-related post-traumatic stress can be direct or anticipatory. Climate change increasingly favors climate disasters (major fires, floods, heatwaves), which can leave traumatic sequelae in people who have directly experienced them.

    We can also find anticipation of ecological disaster, which itself can promote the development of post-traumatic stress.

    Therapeutic Management :

    In the context of post-traumatic stress following various types of climate disasters, virtual reality exposure therapy can immerse the patient in some of these traumatic places. Of course, the exposure is done gradually. As with anxiety management, the therapist will accompany the patient during these exposures to provide emotion management tools and work on catastrophic thoughts. The environments created by virtual reality allow for the closest approximation to real environments to enable optimal exposure and management.

    • Violence

    You may wonder how climate can impact violence? Numerous studies have examined the effect of extreme heat (or cold). A meta-analysis by three researchers from the University of Berkeley demonstrated that higher than normal seasonal temperatures increase the risk of interpersonal conflicts by 4% and the risk of group conflicts by 14%.

    You might have noticed that you are more sensitive and less patient when you are too hot or too cold?

    Therapeutic Management :

    Various therapies can address anger/violence management. In the context of emotion management, virtual reality can expose the patient to relaxation situations. Through environments designed for relaxation, as well as accompanying audio, the therapist will guide the patient in learning to manage their anger.

    • Depression

    Previously, we discussed depression in the context of solastalgia. This time we address depression related to pollution.

    Indeed, a British study conducted over more than 7 years with 13,000 people shows a link between air pollution and an increase in depression rates. This same study demonstrates a link between pollutants and increased anxiety and the risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. The researchers explain that pollutants have significant inflammatory effects that promote psychotic and mood disorders.

    Episodes of depression can also develop in connection with rising temperatures. Indeed, we have long known that extreme temperatures are very difficult to cope with psychologically. Many people fear not being able to handle the heat, fear having panic attacks, suffocating… which promotes depression and anxiety in these individuals.

    Furthermore, studies show an increased risk and number of suicides linked to rising temperatures.

    Therapeutic Management :

    Virtual reality also plays a role in managing climate-related depression. Virtual reality can use environments for relaxation/meditation. Thus, patients are immersed in virtual worlds that are ideal for learning relaxation, breathing techniques, letting go… It also allows working on behavioral activation, enabling the patient to re-expose themselves to various enjoyable situations through virtual reality.

    • A Physical Impact Example: Medications and Heat

    What do medications have to do with climate?

    Some medications can exacerbate symptoms found in cases of heat, such as dehydration. Indeed, these medications can affect body temperature regulation. As mentioned earlier, higher temperatures impact anxiety, depression, violence

    Thus, with rising temperatures, it will be necessary to adjust prescribed medications accordingly.

    Additionally, some medications can deteriorate with heat (such as liquids, suppositories, creams…). Other types of medications, like capsules and powders, can also eventually degrade over time.

    2. THERAPEUTIC MANAGEMENT

    Here are some examples of the impact of climate on individuals’ mental health. As you may have understood, the consequences related to climate necessitate new therapeutic management. More and more people need a moment of listening and exchange about their worries and emotions… It is therefore important to support individuals to help them manage and feel better in their daily lives !

      Do you need help ? A psychologist calls you