Climate change is affecting mental health, UN official says

Extreme weather events can cause stress and anxiety, leading to serious mental health issues

Klaus Moldeus says overarching threats of a changing climate should not incite hopelessness among younger generations. Courtesy Middle East Youth Expo
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When it comes to climate change, mental health may not be the first thing that comes to mind but the two are intrinsically linked, a United Nations spokesman said.

Extreme weather events like floods and bushfires have become more commonplace, and they have triggered post-traumatic stress disorders, depression and anxiety among populations.

Negative psychological responses to climate change such as avoidance, fear and a feeling of helplessness have increased too.

"The world we live in today is not always kind to us," Klaus Moldeus from United Nations – Water, told The National.

“Technology and social media tend to take the weight of blame for a surge in mental health issues.

“But actually, planetary degradation has had a severe impact on our mind health.”

Young people come with a fresh perspective and are willing to offer new solutions to tackle a global issue

Speaking at the Middle East Youth Expo 2020 in Abu Dhabi, Mr Moldeus said countries with few resources are usually the most impacted, as weakened infrastructure gives rise to financial and relationship stress.

According to latest figures from the Global Peace Index 2019, an estimated 971 million people live in areas with high or very high exposure to climate hazards.

In 2018, 61 per cent of total displacements were due to climate-related disasters.

But around the world, the environmental burden is causing sleepless nights in many homes.

“It is important that the overarching threats of a changing climate do not incite hopelessness among younger generations.

“Young people tend to have a fearless attitude so we need to tap into that.

“They come with a fresh perspective and are willing to offer new solutions to tackle a global issue.”

He said it’s important that people "open up discussions" about the impact of climate change on mental health.

“Swedish campaigner, Greta Thunberg, used social media to spread her environmental message globally.

“She was open and honest about her own struggles, telling world leaders how they stole her childhood and ruined her future dreams.

“Young people have been absorbing the gravity of her warnings and are taking action.”

In 2015, the United Nations released a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future for all.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality and climate change. With an aim to achieve them all by 2030, Mr Moldeus said he is looking to the younger generations.

“In my opinion, no knowledge is better than old knowledge.

“What I mean by that is we need to listen to what young people have to say and take them seriously.

“If we empower them to make change, it will not only impact the environment, but the mental health burden caused by the changing climate too.”