A striking image of Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn as Hurricane Sandy approaches on 29 October 2012. Photo: Carlos Ayala

By Marlene Cimons  
31 January 2014

(LiveScience) – For months after Hurricane Sandy sent nearly six feet of water surging into her home in Long Beach, N.Y. — an oceanfront city along Long Island's south shore — retired art teacher Marcia Bard Isman woke up many mornings feeling anxious and nauseated. She had headaches, and inexplicable bouts of sadness. She found herself crying for no apparent reason.

"I would feel really sad, and that's just not me," she said. "I felt like the joy was out of my life. I still haven't recaptured it."

What Isman is experiencing is one of the little-recognized consequences of climate change, the mental anguish experienced by survivors in the aftermath of extreme and sometimes violent weather and other natural disasters. The emotional toll of global warming is expected to become a national — and potentially global — crisis that many mental health experts warn could prove far more serious than its physical and environmental effects.

"When you have an environmental insult, the burden of mental health disease is far greater than the physical," said Steven Shapiro, a Baltimore psychologist who directs the program on climate change, sustainability and psychology for the nonprofit Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR). "It has a much larger effect on the psyche. Survivors can have all sorts of issues: post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and academic issues among kids."

A report released in 2012 by the National Wildlife Federation's Climate Education Program and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicted a steep rise in mental and social disorders resulting from climate change-related events in the coming years, including depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, suicide and widespread outbreaks of violence. Moreover, it estimated that about 200 million Americans will be exposed to serious psychological distress from climate-related events in the coming years, and that the nation's counselors, trauma specialists and first responders currently are ill-equipped to cope.

"The physical toll has been studied, but the psychological impacts of climate change have not been addressed," said Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist and one of the report's authors. "We must not forget that people who are physically affected by climate change will also be suffering from the emotional fallout of what has happened to them. Others suffer emotionally from a distance, especially those who are most keenly aware of the perils we face, or as in the case of children, those who feel especially vulnerable. And the psychological damage is not only over what is happening now, but what is likely going to happen in the future. [more]

Americans' Mental Health is Latest Victim of Changing Climate (Op-Ed)



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