Climate Change Has an Unexpected Impact on Mental Health

We have a "catastrophic" problem.

Global climate change is projected to change our planet this century and beyond. We’re already seeing the effects — temperatures are rising, precipitation patterns are changing, hurricanes are more intense, and droughts are more extreme. These alterations will holistically change the ways we live our lives, both externally and internally. Our mental health, research released in October points out, is already at risk.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists presented empirical evidence that the effects of climate change undermine mental health. After evaluating data collected on 2 million randomly sampled Americans, they determined that experience with hotter temperatures and added precipitation is directly linked to poorer mental health. The more exposed people are to these elements, the worse it becomes — a crucial factor because climate change-driven events are only likely to become more frequent and intense in coming years.

This story is #1 on Inverse’s 25 Most Surprising Human Discoveries Made in 2018.

“Our paper — when coupled with evidence that climate change may impact everyday human moods to severe outcomes like suicide — provides further evidence that exposure to heat, on average, worsens mental health outcomes,” study co-author and MIT Media Lab research scientist Nick Obradovich, Ph.D., told Inverse when we first reported on this study in October.

climate change
NASA's 2016 temperature map depicted record temperatures.

Obradovich and his team also determined from the data that women and low-income individuals are the populations most affected by the link between monthly temperatures and mental health. Low-income respondents and women were each 60 percent more likely than the highest-income adults and men to experience mental health issues during the same high-temperature months.

The relationship between climate change and mental health issues is a correlation that needs to be studied further, but for now Obradovich says that it could be the impact heat has on “sleep, on daily mood, on physical activity rates, on heat-related illness, on cognitive performance, or on any complex combination of above.” The driving processes are complex, and it’s more likely that there isn’t just one mechanism driving the results. What is certain is that, as the planet warms, things are likely to get worse.

“If we push global temperature rise into the 2 degree-plus Celsius range,” Obradovich says, “the impacts on human well-being, including mental health, may be catastrophic.”

As 2018 winds down, Inverse is highlighting 25 surprising things we learned about humans this year. These stories told us weird stuff about our bodies and brains, uncovered insights into our social lives, and illuminated why we’re such complicated, wonderful, and weird animals. This story was #1. Read the original story here.