Climate Change Could Have Wide-Ranging Effects on Mental Health

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Climate change may have surprising and wide-ranging effects on mental health, experts say.

That’s because climate change is both a root cause of mental health crises and a “threat multiplier,” meaning that it makes existing mental health problems worse, said Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist in private practice and an advisory board member for the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers have documented a link between extreme climate and weather events and higher levels of aggression, Van Susteren said. A 2013 study published in the journal Science found that increases in temperature and extreme rainfall are associated with increased levels of conflict between individuals, and between groups, she said. One possible explanation for the link between rising temperatures and aggression is that higher temperatures increase levels of adrenaline in the body, which can contribute to aggression, Van Susteren told Live Science.

Van Susteren also highlighted the link between rising air-pollution levels and a higher risk of neurological and psychiatric problems. When a person breathes in particulate matter from air pollution, that matter can enter a person’s olfactory nerve and cause neural inflammation, she said. Neural inflammation is linked to disorders found in all age groups, including Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive disorders, she said.

In her talk, Van Susteren stressed the need to take action on climate change; if action is not taken, she said, it will have profound effects on other children’s mental health as well.


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