Identifying and Addressing the Profound Mental Health Effects of Climate Change

Residents amid homes consumed by flood and fire, White Sulphur Springs, WV, June 2016. Photo © AP Photo / Steve Helber.

A new word for an era of increasing environmental instability.

A lot of attention is currently paid to the physical impacts of climate change, including extreme heat events, droughts, extreme storms, and rising sea levels. Far less attention has been paid to the psychological impacts of this change. For example, you may not be familiar with the term “solastalgia.” It’s related to the older word “nostalgia,” but was created to reflect the environmental and often related sociopolitical uncertainty of our current times—that is, of change that’s slow and incremental, and often even denied, and then sometimes rapid and catastrophic and impossible to ignore.

The term is explained in more detail in an April feature article in AJN, “Climate Change and Mental Health,” by Janna Trombley, Stephanie Chalupka, and Laura Anderko:

Solastalgia is a term coined a decade ago by philosopher Glenn Albrecht . . . It refers to the psychological distress resulting from degradation of one’s home environment.49 Solastalgia can occur as a result of events that impact climate change, including drought, wildfires, and natural disasters.49, 50 When environmental degradation occurs in one’s home, place and identity may be compromised, which can manifest as hopelessness, anger, sadness, and discomfort.51

Building resilience.

In this concise, informative article, the authors examine the evidence for the effects of climate change on mental health and well-being, from increased social instability and aggression to increased risk of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and acute stress disorders.

The authors also focus on the need to build resilience. In so doing, they describe what we know about determinants of maladaptive outcomes or of resilience. They end by offering a framework for resilient health care settings. The article is free until the end of April, so click the link above to read it.

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

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