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Impacts of climate change on mental health and well-being

Hennepin County employees assess damage from a tornado including fallen treesOur health and safety, water supplies, food systems, access to healthy air, and where we are able to live all depend on a stable climate. So, it stands to reason that the climate crisis has impacts on our mental health and well-being.

Types of mental health impacts from climate change

Sudden and gradual impacts

Some people may experience sudden mental health impacts after experiencing a weather disaster, while other impacts will be gradual and cumulative. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, each person will react to climate change differently based on a variety of factors such as where they live, their occupation, and previous significant interactions with disasters and their environment.

Climate is also fundamental to our understanding of place. Here in Minnesota, discussing the weather is a favorite pastime and the changing seasons provide a signal for certain recreation and economic activities, such as the ice fishing season, planting and harvesting times, and tourism to ski areas. Our attachment to places — the environments, traditions, and customs tied to these places — are an important part of our identity. This attachment to place is what makes environmental changes and natural disasters particularly distressing.

Sense of loss

The Minnesota Department of Health identifies an emerging concern for a psychological phenomenon called ‘Solastalgia’ - a newer concept developed to give greater meaning and clarity to environmentally induced distress. Solastalgia is characterized by a sense of distress or emotional pain felt when the place of solace (or homeland) is diminished or destroyed.

Climate change can contribute to several sources of loss that may include:

  • Loss of habitat for native plants and wildlife
  • Water shortage and drought
  • Loss of livelihood for those who have a career dependent on stable and expected climate conditions
  • Loss of property, pets, or possessions due to a disaster
  • Loss of place due to forced migration or displacement due to a disaster or loss of job 

All of these losses can cause stress, sadness, anxiety, or depression amongst individuals that are impacted. When the county surveyed residents about impacts of climate change that they’ve experienced in the past few years, the most common response was stress or anxiety about climate change. See the survey report (PDF) for more information.

Climate anxiety among youth

Youth are increasingly reporting climate anxiety, and interventions are needed to foster resiliency. Parents and educators can be influential in shifting feelings of powerlessness in the face of the climate crisis to actions to take to gain a sense of control.  

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends the following strategies: 

  • Help youth understand the links between actions and impacts on ecosystems and environmental resources. 
  • Ask youth how climate change and related natural disasters make them feel. 
  • Take time to address feelings and help youth find healthy, proactive ways to reduce negative thoughts and gain a sense of control. 

Learn more 

The Minnesota Department of Health has numerous resources on climate and well-being, including more information about the health outcomes, at-risk populations and resources available to help. 

Yale Climate Connections shares an insightful article on how to talk with kids about climate change

Climate Generation, a Minnesota-based non-profit organization, is a leader in climate education and offers resources and trainings for educators, as well as opportunities for youth to get involved in advocating for collective action on climate.