Empirical evidence of mental health risks posed by climate change

Nick Obradovich, Robyn Migliorini, Martin P. Paulus, Iyad Rahwan (2018). “Empirical evidence of mental health risks posed by climate change.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115 (43) 10953-10958. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1801528115

Significance

Wellbeing falters without sound mental health. Scholars have recently indicated that the impacts of climate change are likely to undermine mental health through a variety of direct and indirect mechanisms. Using daily meteorological data coupled with information from nearly 2 million randomly sampled US residents across a decade of data collection, we find that experience with hotter temperatures and added precipitation each worsen mental health, that multiyear warming associates with an increased prevalence of mental health issues, and that exposure to tropical cyclones, likely to increase in frequency and intensity in the future, is linked to worsened mental health. These results provide added large-scale evidence to the growing literature linking climate change and mental health.

 

Abstract

Sound mental health—a critical facet of human wellbeing—has the potential to be undermined by climate change. Few large-scale studies have empirically examined this hypothesis. Here, we show that short-term exposure to more extreme weather, multiyear warming, and tropical cyclone exposure each associate with worsened mental health. To do so, we couple meteorological and climatic data with reported mental health difficulties drawn from nearly 2 million randomly sampled US residents between 2002 and 2012. We find that shifting from monthly temperatures between 25 °C and 30 °C to >30 °C increases the probability of mental health difficulties by 0.5% points, that 1°C of 5-year warming associates with a 2% point increase in the prevalence of mental health issues, and that exposure to Hurricane Katrina associates with a 4% point increase in this metric. Our analyses provide added quantitative support for the conclusion that environmental stressors produced by climate change pose threats to human mental health.

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