A Link Between Mental Health and Climate Change

Kirsten Long

The Inuit people of Labrador Canada are not only experiencing environmental impacts as a result of global warming, but they are also seeing a correlation between the climate and suicide. The indigenous people have an extremely strong bond with their land as they use it to hunt for food and fur to survive and as a way to feel good.

The Lament for the Land documentary tells us that if the people cannot go out and travel across the land, they do not feel like people. The documentary is told via 24 people from Nunatsiavut, Labrador, who relay the story of change, loss, and hope in regards to the rapid climate change in the North. The film brings to light some climatic and environmental issues and their impacts on mental, emotional and cultural facets that one of Canada’s oldest cultures is enduring. Doctor Ashlee Cunsolo collaborated with five communities of Nunatsiavut to bring us this film.

The ice that that these people use to travel, is being destroyed since the Inuit’s lands are warming at a rate twice as fast as the global average. The transition periods for the ice are even longer causing hunters to get stuck in the community in the fall and again in the spring when the ice melts. During this time, it is observed that there is an increase in suicides and suicide attempts, which is causing concern among mental health practitioners. This phenomenon is known as “ecological grief”, which is the mourning of ecosystems and species that are dissipating. There is potential for an international mental health crisis as rising seas, intense storms, and higher temperatures continue to worsen around the globe.

After a natural disaster takes place, there tends to be a spike in depression, PTSD, anxiety and substance abuse. After Hurricane Katrina it was found that one in six survivors met the criteria for PTSD, as well the rate of suicide doubled, showing how mental health and climate change can have a direct impact on each other. Studies have shown that experiencing more days a year with temperatures above 95 is linked with higher rates of suicide.

As we have discussed in previous blogs, climate change affects various parts of our planet, whether it be destroying ecosystems, affecting bees, and even coffee beans, but it is also evident that it affects state of mind in people as well. Making changes to become more eco-friendly will help to preserve our environment, as well as improve mental health.