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BPS responds to new report on climate crisis and the impact on mental health

27 May 2021

A new report from Imperial College London, written with contributions from a number of BPS members, highlights the impact of the climate crisis on mental health.

This research demonstrates the negative impact of the climate crisis on the mental health and wellbeing of millions across the world. The psychological trauma of climate-related events is something we cannot ignore. Evidence shows that anxiety about the climate crisis is growing, particularly among young people, and we owe future generations action on this issue. We must take urgent action to protect the health and life outcomes of people across the globe. 

Psychology has an important role to play in promoting social, organisational and individual change in the face of the climate crisis. We can help understand the relationships between the individual and the state, the role of activism and collective action and how to communicate to affect behaviour change. We know that change is possible, and that with effective leadership the collective will to make a difference can be harnessed to affect real change.

Professor Emeritus David Uzzell, from the British Psychological Society’s Climate Environmental Crisis Steering Group, said:

“As well as the psychological impacts of the climate crisis itself, there are also consequences from the social and economic responses to a changing environment. Including stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, interpersonal conflict and post-traumatic stress disorders.

“For example, carbon-reducing legislation and regulations introduced by government may also serve to contribute further to mental health problems, for example, by impacting on jobs and subsequently identities.”

Annie Mitchell from the Division of Clinical Psychology, who contributed to the report, said:

“Psychologists want to be part of the change necessary in addressing this urgent, global problem. Research shows that when a percentage of a population engage in nonviolent resistance about an issue, social change such as that necessary to address climate breakdown, can be achieved while democracy is supported. We hope that as a society, we are moving closer to the point at which enough people understand the implications of global heating and support urgent efforts to mitigate its effects.”

Professor Martin Milton, Chair of the Environment and Climate Crisis workstream in the BPS Division of Counselling Psychology, added:

“Counselling psychologists are already working with climate-related distress, as clients bring this to therapy. It is a growing problem, and this report is helpful in providing evidence to help us understand this. While the report brings home the enormous scale of the problem, it is heartening to see the data so clearly laid out alongside clear policy objectives.”

Dr Jan Maskell, the convenor of the Division of Occupational Psychology’s ‘Going Green Working Group', commented:

"This report considers a wide range of possible mental health impacts, direct and indirect, of climate change on a variety of individuals and groups. One group in particular, professionals working in environmental sustainability, can be affected by these issues and experience frustration that not enough is being done at pace which can lead to climate grief and potentially eco-anxiety. Policymakers must take note of the need to ensure that the co-benefits of actions for climate change and for mental health are adequately incorporated into their cost-benefit calculations."

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