Mental Health

A young girl rest her head on an old wooden fence

The Issue

Shifts in climate can have significant impacts to mental health in addition to physical health. The stress of a changing environment has been linked to depression, insomnia and anxiety. Climate refugees and those recovering from disasters may have to deal with relocating to new areas, navigating new environments, and finding ways to create stability for their families. The stress of these changes can weaken the immune system, interrupt sleep and cause psychological distress.

CHI Research & Action

Just as changes to the environment can have an impact on physical health, they can impact emotional health as well. Insomnia research conducted with CHI scholars showed that disaster-related stress diminishes overall sleep times. In fact, this study indicated it is not only the stress caused by a disaster that impacts sleep patterns, but changes in air quality can also interrupt sleep by causing breathing problems. Other research has explored how chronic exposure to elevated levels of air pollution contributes to cognitive decline. Those most vulnerable to these effects are the elderly and individuals living in poverty. Worrying about a climate-altered future and the uncertainty that comes from extreme weather events can cause psychological impacts that warrant further research.

Our Experts

Melissa Perry
Professor and Chair, Environmental and Occupational Health
GW Milken Institute School of Public Health