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article imageThe unseen impacts of climate change on mental health

By Karen Graham     May 14, 2019 in Science
Vancouver - Most of us recognize the connections between climate change and the severity of floods, hurricanes, wildfires and greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. But there has been little focus on climate change's impact on mental health.
The effects of climate change, including wildfires, drought, flooding, and severe weather events, are occurring with increasing frequency and severity. And for those most vulnerable, the effects go far beyond getting disaster aid, rebuilding and going back to a seemingly normal life.
Most of us can remember vividly what we were doing or where we happened to be when a wildfire or flooding was taking place, and for many people, the events that transpired during the emergency are so overwhelming they remain in our consciousness for weeks and months - sometimes, forever.
An article in this month's B.C. Medical Journal reports that this is becoming a serious issue. In the article, "The unseen impacts of climate change on mental health," Author Dr. Elizabeth Wiley stresses that family doctors need to step up to help patients suffering from the mental health impacts of climate change.
Smoke rises off Highway 63 outside Fort McMurray  Canada on May 7  2016
Smoke rises off Highway 63 outside Fort McMurray, Canada on May 7, 2016
Cole Burston, AFP/File
According to CBC, Dr. Wiley, who works on Vancouver Island, has worked in Northern B.C. during the wildfires and on Vancouver Island during damaging storms.
Wiley points out that fear and anxiety are becoming "more predominant concerns" among patients. "For physicians and other health-care providers, the mental health effects of climate change will undoubtedly continue to affect our patients, our practices, and our communities for years to come," Wiley wrote, noting that these mental health problems largely go unnoticed.
The things we all face in a natural disaster, like food insecurity, poor air quality, displacement, and housing insecurity are all compounded by anxiety and fear and may be more prominent in "older adults, children, those with pre-existing conditions, comorbidities, limited culturally safe supports, and/or lower socioeconomic status," she writes.
File photo: Over 1 000 Canadian Armed Forces members are helping local and provincial partners in ON...
File photo: Over 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces members are helping local and provincial partners in ON, QC, and NB with flood relief efforts.
Canadian Armed Forces operations
Wiley maintains all this can have an impact on a person's mental health. "Studies of similar experiences in Fort McMurray, Alberta, after wildfires forced total evacuation in 2016, suggest that psychosocial impacts from the fires were widespread and likely to persist following the evacuation," she writes, citing an article in the CMAJ Open.
Wiley also relied on the 2016 update of the Indicators of Climate Change for British Columbia report. It led her to state that "there's been an estimated 1.4 °C average temperature increase across British Columbia in the last century, with an increase of 1.3 to 2.7 °C projected by 2050."
More about Climate change, Mental health, BC Medical Journal, Wildfires, Natural disasters
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