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Climate Change and Behavioral Health

Did you happen to see the news about the continuing mental health trauma for people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, since the floods now more than a year ago?  Many died, thousands were forced out of their homes, they still haven’t returned in many cases, some people lost loved ones, jobs, or relationships. Some kids have nightmares and other behavioral problems because of the struggles with the trauma from the storms and floods. This is a horribly terrible state of affairs, and it’s going to get worse as government aid to support organizations such as Louisiana Spirit get cut from federal funding. Climate change results in mental health problems that may be acute, caused in the immediate aftermath of an extreme weather event, for example, or chronic, resulting in more permanent mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mental health caregivers are aware of this problem and they’re starting to prepare for the growth in treatment needs. The American Psychological Association and partners released a document in March 2017 entitled Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. This is well worth a read. There is information about climate change, how mental health is impacted by changes, and definitive steps you can take as an individual and in your community to help with this problem. One of the important takeaways is that it is a known fact that helping other people improves your mental health, i.e. taking action to help with a community event or people in the community will make you feel better. Maybe you feel less powerless, and you meet people that you can relate to. Another thing that might be recognizable for many is the idea of “Cassandras,” who are “gripped by thoughts of future harm, suffering from pre-traumatic stress response (a before-the-fact version of classic PTSD) because they know the world has not heard the warnings forcefully enough.” Yes, I’m there.

There are complete “to do” lists for a number of situations, actions you can take as an individual or in your community. Here are some actions that individuals can take:

  • Actions at home
    • Have household emergency plans that are routinely practiced.
    • Understand family medications and their side effects.
    • Learn resilience interventions.
  • Actions in the Community
    • Connect with family, friends, neighbors, and other groups to build strong social networks.
    • Support clean energy to prevent further climate change.
    • Start a community resilience project.

According to the APA:

These actions, in turn, can provide a greater sense of individual security and control.

This could avert many problems in the future, and will be a growing area of activity.

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