Living in Pakistan where the ongoing climate crisis has resulted in extreme temperatures, evident with the raging monsoons this year as well as intense heat waves, one doesn't consider the concept of mental health being affected whether subconsciously aware or not.
Psychiatrists have determined a direct link between how the current climate change which is drastically impacting the rate of global warming, destabilising the Earth's temperature(s), causing sea levels to rise and endangering species, as well as disrupting atmospheric harmony. The consequence we do not pay adequate attention to, however, is how this change in the world's climate is adversely taking a toll on our mental wellbeing as well.
US-based psychotherapist, Leslie Davenport emphasised the mental health effects due to "eco-grief" and "eco-anxiety", 'I predict that anxiety, grief and depression are going to have a rapid and sharp increase in the coming months and years, mirroring the scientific predictions of the more severe changes we will experience with global warming. But because eco-grief sits within the category of disenfranchised grief, those who express it can be shunned as being fringe extremists, too sensitive or weak.'
Extreme climate change is associated with changes in behavioral patterns, such as increasing aggressive displays of emotion, depression and anxiety. The mental fairing of an individual suffers with disorders such as stress and may even lead to some using substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Currently, with the intense monsoons in Pakistan, citizens in Karachi are not only facing the monumental tension of losing their livelihood but may be unaware of the acute mental devastation such weather and environmental changes have caused.
With depression, anxiety and anger, one does not always know where it stems from, with people usually dismissing it, especially in a state where mental health is not regarded as a priority. Subsequently, the delay to address various issues leads to a greater build up of the problem until it gets out of control. With climate change, which has significantly had an affect on Pakistan's extreme weather system, the people are inadvertently suffering without even realising how this impacts their everyday life.
Who is more likely to suffer the effects of climate change?
According to psychiatrists, those who already struggle with mental health issues, the old, the chronically ill, new mothers who may be susceptible to Postpartum Depression, young children and lower socio-economic classes may be more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.
With lower socio-economic classes, the effects of a changing environment disrupt their way of life, wrecking infrastructure they are depended on and not being aware of the current situation can flair up mental tensions which are already in place. Similarly, not having the financial stronghold to cope with such changes can make matters worse.
Young children and the elderly may find it extremely difficult to cope with or recognise the dire circumstances brought about by this unfortunate phenomenon. The change in temperature, the environment and over-all lifestyle may cause a hindrance in their everyday functioning and adapting to several changes in routine can prove to be a task as well, resulting in some form of trauma.
With those who may already be suffering from other mental illnesses, the climate changing may aggravate the current predicament. With certain medicines, thought processes and routines, people who may be medicating for other disorders are unaware of how their systems do not regulate heat efficiently and may be unaware of how to detect when their body temperature is rising. Therefore, the state of our mental wellbeing can be heavily affected without us even being prepared or educated on how and why this happens.
Climate change needs to be addressed and talked about in Pakistan with great heed to its side effects and how not only our world is changing but we ourselves may not know how we'll be functioning in the years to come.
Lisa Van Susteren, co-author of one of the earliest reports on climate change and mental health, wrote, 'We may not currently be thinking about how heavy the toll on our psyche will be, but, before long, we will know only too well,'.
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