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Mental Health and Stress-Related Disorders

Impacts on Risk

The number of people killed by climatic, hydrological, and meteorological disasters in 2008 was the highest of the last decade, with 147,722 deaths reported worldwide. In the United States, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, were two of the most damaging hurricanes recorded in U.S. history, impacting more than 90,000 square miles and directly affecting more than 1.5 million people, including forcing 800,000 citizens to be relocated from their homes. Scientific evidence supports that global warming will be accompanied by changes in the intensity, duration, and geographical extent of weather and climate extreme events; therefore, the threat to human health and well being from events such as hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and tornadoes is likely to continue, and perhaps worsen.

It is also highly likely that the long-term effects of climate change will displace significant numbers of people, many of whom are already vulnerable members of society. Extreme weather events, sea-level rise, destruction of local economies, resource scarcity, and associated conflict due to climate change are predicted to displace millions of people worldwide over the coming century. The most commonly cited figure of projected population displacement from climate change is 200 million people worldwide by 2050. Those with lower socioeconomic standing are more likely to choose to relocate permanently following a devastating event, often due to limited resources to rebuild property and restore livelihood. In addition, people will continue to experience place-based distress caused by the effects of climate change due to involuntary migration or the loss of connection to one’s home environment, a phenomenon called “Solastalgia”.

The mental health impacts of environmentally displaced populations in conflict stricken areas have been well documented; however, additional research is needed to better understand mental health impacts on such people as they relate to climate change and climate change-related migration. While there will likely be some displacement of populations in the United States caused by the effects of climate change, this issue is anticipated to have far greater consequences on a global scale. The results of climate science research on sea-level rise, extreme events such as flooding and droughts, the impacts of climate change on natural resources, and other impacts caused by climate variability and change must be connected to social science research. This link to social sciences, including behavioral science research, will help to build an understanding of when, how, and where population shifts may occur, thereby increasing the likelihood that necessary mental health services and support can be made available where and when they are needed most.

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