After long summer days, when a spell of rain soothes the dusty earth, who doesn’t feel a sense of joy? Even the peacock breaks into a dance. But when the once-refreshing rain continues incessantly for days, causing floods, landslides and devastation, it triggers stress, anxiety, depression and fear. The changing faces of weather impacts human minds.
Climate is a common topic of conversation — as a casual mention of the weather of the day or a detailed discussion on seasonal changes. Dialogues on climate change, global warming and natural calamities due to the vagaries of weather have taken centre-stage in recent times after scientists and environmentalists worldwide have indicated that a gradual rise in the Earth’s temperature can spell doom for the planet. According to NASA, the Earth’s surface continues to be significantly warm, with recent global temperatures being the hottest in the past 2,000-plus years. Global climate change impacts the environment, economy, social life, and health of people everywhere.
While the consequences of climate change on health have been researched over the years and widely accepted, its impact on mental health is not yet well-established or studied adequately — but the situation is changing.
Impact of climate on human minds
Dr C Naveen Kumar, professor and head, Community Psychiatry unit and consultant, Centre for Disaster Management, Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), says, “There is increasing evidence that extreme weather events that are more frequent, intense and complex owing to a changing climate can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety, depression, complicated grief, survivor guilt, vicarious trauma, recovery fatigue, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation.” “Incremental climate changes, such as rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and episodic drought, can change natural landscapes, disrupt food and water resources, change agricultural conditions, change land use and habitation, weaken infrastructure and give rise to financial and relationship stress, increase risks of violence and aggression and displacement of entire communities,” he notes. “Long-term droughts affect food and water supplies and can subsequently affect the economic and mental well-being of land-based workers. They have also been increasingly linked to conflict and forced migration, which can influence psychosocial outcomes like the propensity for stress, PTSD, anxiety, and trauma,” the professor adds.