Study examines how climate change puts Americans' mental health at risk

Health Problems, Global Warming Linked, Per Study

The problems associated with global warming are coming closer home say researchers.

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a Special Report on the effect of the world warming 1.5°C or more above pre-industrial levels. This could happen 22 years before the 2040 deadline set before, they add. "In that world, the effect between hot temperatures and mental-health outcomes might be reduced".

In the new study, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab along and Harvard compared temperature changes and mental health issues.

Half of all mental disorders begin at the adolescent age - before the age of 14 - but most cases go undetected and untreated, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said. The team led by Obradovich looked at mental health information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System of over 2 million Americans and correlated it with daily meteorological and climatic data changes between 2002 and 2012. He warned that a 2 degree Celsius rise can push human mental health over the edge.

Between 2002 and 2012, almost 2 million participants were asked this question: "Now thinking about your mental health, which includes stress, depression, and problems with emotions, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?" Both people with low income and women were 60 percent more likely to have emotions tied to weather than those with a higher income and men, respectively, according to the study's findings.

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Specifically, the shift from average monthly temperatures between 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) and 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) to averages greater than 30 related to a 0.5 percentage point increase in the probability of mental health difficulties. What researchers found was that even a moderate temperature increase could have a negative effect on one's mental well-being. Increase in evaporation also leads to more rain and storms they add.

In fact, a 1-degree C change - or a 1.8-degree F increase - could cause a 2 percent increase in mental health problems in just five years.

Finally, the team examined mental health reports from people affected by Hurricane Katrina and compared them to reports from people in comparable-sized places that had not been affected by the catastrophic hurricane. It was found that those who experienced Katrina had a 4 percent more risk of mental health issues.

This study echoes (and builds upon) previous research that found an association between heat waves (which are expected to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change) and increased hospital admissions for self-harm and other health concerns.

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