Include mental health support in climate crisis response: WHO

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The World Health Organisation has urged the countries to include mental health support in their response to the climate crisis in a new policy brief released at the Stokholm+50 environmental summit.

Referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report published in February 2022, which noted that the rapidly changing climate is an increasing threat to psychosocial well-being and mental health ranging from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behaviour, the UN body said that climate change exacerbates many social and environmental risk factors for mental health and psychosocial problems, and can lead to emotional distress, the development of new mental health conditions and a worsening situation for people already living with these conditions.

“The impacts of climate change are increasingly part of our daily lives, and there is very little dedicated mental health support available for people and communities dealing with climate-related hazards and long-term risk,” the Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO Dr Maria Neira said.

Noting that large gaps exist between mental health needs and the services and systems available to address them exist in countries even without the threats posed by the climate crisis, the WHO said that the situation is even worse in poor countries where less than one in five people report receiving adequate service.

Referring to a 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries, which revealed that only nine countries have thus far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans, the policy brief urged the governments to integrate climate considerations with mental health programmes along with integrating mental health support with climate action.

The UN body further urged the governments of the member states to develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities and close the large funding gap that exists for mental health and psychosocial support.

“The impact of climate change is compounding the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and mental health services globally,” the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO Dévora Kestel said.

“There are nearly one billion people living with mental health conditions, yet in low- and middle-income countries, three out of four do not have access to needed services,” she added.

“By ramping up mental health and psychosocial support within disaster risk reduction and climate action, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk,” Kestel said


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