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Comment to article: Are climate change and mental health correlated?

Reference: Ramadan, A.M.H. y Ataallah, A.G. (2021) Are climate change and mental health correlated? General Psychiatry 34, e100648. 10.1136/gpsych-2021-100648


What is known about this subject?

There is robust evidence regarding the relationship between climate change and mental health. Mental health can be affected directly especially after acute climate events, with higher rates of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse and domestic violence following such events. [1] In addition, these acute events can also have indirect effects on mental health, due to the fact that after certain climate-related catastrophes there are usually economic losses in the form of property damage, loss of productivity, disrupting educational and medical services, loss of employment opportunities, increased conflicts, forced migration, etc. All these events significantly impact mental health. [2]

Most current research undertaken is from high-income countries, which is a problem since the most affected population, the most vulnerable groups to climate change, are not being studied. [3]



What does this study add to the existing literature?

Since the 1980s, average global temperatures have been progressively increasing and this has led to extreme weather events, especially during the summer and winter, including hurricanes, floods, heatwaves, etc. These events have had significant negative mental health impacts on the population, especially on those living in rural and indigenous regions. [4]

This review aims to understand the current impact of climate-change-related catastrophes on mental health.

For example, in October 2017, Hurricane Maria, which was considered one of the worst climate-related natural disasters in history, attacked the northern Caribbean islands. Puerto Rico, the Dominican islands, the Bahamas and Haiti were drastically affected. Puerto Rico, specifically, before the onset of hurricane Maria, was being affected by a ten-year recession that caused many individuals to lose their jobs and go bankrupt. This led to increasing levels of mental health problems among Puerto Ricans, and after Hurricane Maria, the rate of mental health issues increased even more. According to a study undertaken after this natural disaster, the rate of suicide increased a 16% in just one year since 2016, and the overall rate of suicides increased a 26% in the same period following Hurricane Maria. [5]

Another example is Hurricane Katrina, which hit the United States in August 2005. Katrina caused the displacement of 650 000 individuals, a death toll of 2000 individuals and an enormous number of damages, being by far the most economically costly natural disaster in the history of the United States. [6] The most severely affected were individuals with low income and the black community, who lost their job and suffered financial ruin. [7]

This event led to a significantly increased rate of mental health issues. A study conducted five to seven months following this disaster, reported that 49% of those affected were liable to suffer a moderate to severe mental illness, and 30.3% were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following the hurricane. [8]


What are the implications of the findings?

This work provides an understanding of the importance of addressing the problem at the political and corporative level by legislating and trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and at the individual level by learning to cope with the impacts of these disasters.

Some of the measures which could help reduce climate change include hydrogen production without carbon emission, the long-standing grid-scale electricity storage, electro fuels, advanced biofuels, zero-carbon cement, zero-carbon steel, zero-carbon fertiliser and carbon capture, among others.

In addition, governments need to invest more in climate research in order to study new strategies, especially in areas of marginalised populations. Evidence shows that these groups are likely to be more vulnerable to extreme weather events and, hence, are liable to experience more mental health issues.
Governments should implement strategies to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5ºC, and leverage different greenhouse gas-reducing technologies, particularly in the richest countries since they are the main drivers of climate change. On the other hand, special attention should be paid to vulnerable communities as they are the worst affected by climate warming and, as it has been shown, this leads to a higher incidence of mental health issues.

Finally, at the citizen level, the population needs to limit the emissions of greenhouse gasses in their daily lives, but should also become more environmentally responsible and foster a climate-friendly consumption.


[1] Morganstein JC, Ursano RJ. Ecological disasters and mental health: causes, consequences, and interventions. Front Psychiatry 2020;11:1. 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00001

[2] Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, et al. . Managing the health effects of climate change. The Lancet 2009;373:1693–733. 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60935-1

[3] Cooper SJ, Wheeler T. Rural household vulnerability to climate risk in Uganda. Regional Environmental Change 2017;17:649–63. 10.1007/s10113-016-1049-5

[4] World Data. info. Climate change and global warming, 2020. Available:

[5] Ramphal L. Medical and psychosocial needs of the Puerto Rican people after Hurricane Maria. Proc 2018;31:294–6. 10.1080/08998280.2018.1459399

[6] Knabb RD, Rhome JR, Brown DP. Tropical cyclone report, Hurricane Katrina, 23-30 August 2005. PP. 43. retrieved from the national Hurricane Center website. Available:

[7] Fussell E, Sastry N, Vanlandingham M. Race, socioeconomic status, and return migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Popul Environ 2010;31:20–42. 10.1007/s11111-009-0092-2

[8] Kessler RC, Barker PR, Colpe LJ, et al. Screening for serious mental illness in the general population. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2003;60:184–9. 10.1001/archpsyc.60.2.184

Ana María García Fernández. Graduada en Biología. Máster en Investigación y Avances en Microbiología. Máster en Profesorado de Educación Secundaria Obligatoria y Bachillerato, Formación Profesional y Enseñanza de Idiomas. Estudiante del Máster en Educación Ambiental.