WHO report suggests climate change poses risk to mental health and wellbeing

14 June 2022

Article: 56/2310

On 3 June 2022, at the Stockholm+50 conference, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a new policy brief, reporting that climate change poses serious risks to mental health and wellbeing, and urging countries to include mental health support in their response to the climate crisis, while also citing examples where a few countries have done this effectively. The findings concur with a February 2022 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with the IPPC reporting that rapidly increasing climate change poses a rising threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being, from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behaviour. 

The report finds the mental health impacts of climate change are unequally distributed, with certain groups disproportionately affected depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender and age. However, climate change affects many of the social determinants that are already leading to massive mental health burdens globally, with a 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries finding only nine have thus far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans. A reported total of almost one billion people globally lives with mental health conditions, yet in low- and middle-income countries, three-quarters do not have access to needed services. 

The new WHO policy brief recommends five important approaches for governments to follow, in order to address the mental health impacts of climate change, these being: 

  • to integrate climate considerations with mental health programmes 
  • to integrate mental health support with climate action 
  • to build upon global commitments 
  • to develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities 
  • to close the large funding gap that exists for mental health and psychosocial  support 

Examples of how this can be done have been found in the Philippines, which has rebuilt and improved its mental health services after the impact of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and in India, where a national project has scaled-up disaster risk reduction in the country, while also preparing cities in responding to climate risks and addressing mental health and psychosocial needs. 

The Stockholm Conference commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment and recognising the importance of environmental determinants for both physical and mental health. 

Source: WHO, 3 June 2022