Climate Crisis Poses Serious Risk to Mental Health – WHO

Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being, concluded a new World Health Organization policy brief, launched on Friday at the Stockholm+50 conference

Natural disasters such as floods, heatwaves, storms, and drought can pose a threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being, exacerbating emotional distress, anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behavior. 

WHO is therefore urging countries to include mental health and psychosocial support in their response to climate change. 

“The impacts of climate change are increasingly part of our daily lives, and there is very little dedicated mental health support available for people and communities dealing with climate-related hazards and long-term risk,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director of Environment, Climate Change, and Health.  

The findings concur with a report made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in February of this year, which revealed that half of the world’s populations live in climate ‘danger zones’ that place “people’s health, lives, and livelihoods” at risk, and this can also include people’s mental health. 

The two-day conference, hosted by the government of Sweden and convened by the United Nations General Assembly on 2 – 3 June, drew together thousands of participants across government, civil society, and the private sector in an effort to spur urgent action for a healthy planet. 

The meeting also commemorates 50 years since the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, which made the environment a pressing issue for the first time. 

Climate change impact on mental health 

The mental health impacts of climate change are felt disproportionately around the world, with support services unequally distributed as well. While there are nearly 1 billion people living with mental health conditions, 3 out of 4 do not have access to needed services in low- and middle-income countries. 

A 2021 WHO survey found that out of 95 countries, only 9 have thus far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans. Additionally, while the annual cost of common mental disorders is $1 trillion, only 2% of government health budgets are spent on mental health. 

These figures are all exacerbated by climate change. 

“The impact of climate change is compounding the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and health services globally,” said Devora Kestel, WHO Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Examples of how climate change can impact mental health include the loss of personally important places, loss of autonomy and control, and exposure to pollution, which is associated with increased risk for mental health conditions. 

The new policy brief recommends five important approaches for governments to address the mental health impacts of climate change:

  • Integrate climate considerations with mental health programs
  • Integrate mental health support with climate action
  • Build upon global commitments
  • Development of community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities to climate change, and
  • Close the funding gap for mental health and psychosocial support 

“By ramping up mental health and psychosocial support within disaster risk reduction and climate action, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk,” said Kestel.  


Image Credits: Clay Kaufmann/ Unsplash.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.