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Climate-Fueled Disasters Impacting Mental Health

It's not just the physical impacts that are causing problems.

With weather-caused disasters there is the physical destruction, personal injury and even death. After the disaster passes, people try to get on with their lives and rebuild, replacing homes and belongings that were damaged.

However, there is also a mental toll that needs to be accounted for. Here is an extract from a Washington Post article, “The Coming Age of Climate Trauma”:

“A more scientific gauge: A study conducted by scientists at the University of California San Diego that was published in February in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that an overwhelming number of Camp Fire survivors were suffering from various mental health disorders, most prominently PTSD. ‘The amount of PTSD we saw in individuals was striking and very significant,’ says Jyoti Mishra, senior author of the study and a professor in the department of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. ‘It was on par with what we’d expect to see in war veterans, but now we’re seeing it in communities where individuals are exposed to wildfires. It really shows how climate change is a mental health stressor.’

“What comes next, experts say, is a different kind of disaster. The mental health care system is not built to handle a world in which entire populations of people are routinely and consistently traumatized or living in a state of anxiety, and its outdated approaches mean most people will never get the help they need. ‘Therapists, counselors, the mental health community in general, is very late to the game,’ says Susanne Moser, a leading expert on climate change adaptation. ‘They’re 20 years behind — at least.’

“Lise Van Susteren, a general and forensic psychiatrist in D.C., says she ‘can’t think of anything more important than mental health and climate.’ She adds, ‘In many cases, the physical damage from climate can be corrected. You can rebuild, you can restore, you can replant. But the profound impact on our mental health takes such a cumulative toll that it can determine how society functions. The problems of mental health are not invisible scars. They drip into our lives individually, politically, economically and socially, day after day.’”

As we look to emerge from the pandemic (I’m hopeful at this point) it is good to remember that there have been a great deal of psychological impacts from this worldwide event. Those impacts will go on for a long time to come.
Disaster Zone by Eric Holdeman is dedicated to sharing information about the world of emergency management and homeland security.
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