Extreme Weather and Mental Health

Extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, drought, extreme heat, and wildfires are occurring at increased rates due to a changing climate and can impact individual mental health. Following disasters such as these, increased levels of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression are observed in both people with no history of mental illness and those at risk.

Mental health problems may be short lived or long lasting and may lead to other health consequences. High levels of anxiety and PTSD has been observed among those affected by Hurricane Katrina, and similar observations have followed floods and heat waves. In addition, some extreme weather events may require populations to migrate, which can lead to relocation and adjustment disorders.

Some groups are especially vulnerable to weather-related health impacts, including children, women, the elderly, emergency responders, and those with preexisting physical and mental health problems. For example, some groups may experience adverse health effects during heat waves, which scientists expect to become more frequent and more intense in the coming decades. Patients with mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia are at risk during hot weather because their medications may interfere with temperature regulation. Suicide rates also increase with high temperatures.

Understanding how a changing climate can impact mental health is important for minimizing adverse health impacts and equipping public health workers with the tools necessary to protect communities from negative health outcomes.

Learn More

What you can do

  • Learn more about the relationship between climate change and extreme weather, and get tips and resources to prepare for extreme weather events where you live: Extreme Weather 101.
  • Discover the health benefits of nature on NEEF's Outdoor Activitiy page

Definitions

  • Mental health refers to the ability of an individual to realize their own abilities, cope with normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and make a contribution to his or her community.
  • Mental illness refers to diagnosable mental disorders that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior associated with distress and/or impaired functioning

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