In the course of climate change, more people than before could be affected by mental stress and illnesses. Experts in Berlin warned of an overall increased need for psychiatric care in the context of weather and environmental changes. "Climate change is endangering mental health. The health system is not prepared for it," writes a group of experts from the German Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Neurology (DGPPN) in their "Berlin Declaration". At the presentation, they called on politicians to take immediate action.
"Climate protection means mental health. Climate change is the opposite," said Mazda Adli, chief physician at the Fliedner Klinik Berlin, who is part of the group of experts. According to a meta-analysis, there is a 0.9 percent higher risk of mental illness with every degree of global warming, according to a DGPPN position paper.
According to the DGPPN, almost 28 percent of adults nationwide already meet the criteria for mental illness within a year. The most common are anxiety disorders, depression and disorders caused by alcohol or drug use.
What will happen as a result of climate change?
More anxiety disorders, more depression, more trauma, more suicides, said Adli. "The climate goes into the brain." Anyone who already has a mental illness is at the mercy of climate stress in a special way. Andreas Heinz, Director of the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Charité Berlin, also named women, people with weak social networks and those with a low socio-economic status as vulnerable groups.
As a direct consequence of climate change, the paper mentions, for example, post-traumatic stress disorders, which can affect people after disasters such as a hurricane. But it is also about the influence of fine dust pollution: This is by no means only harmful to the lungs. "Dirty air causes serious mental illness," said Adli.
There are also indirect consequences that represent “additional massive psychological risk and stress factors”, as it was said. What is meant are conflicts over resources such as drinking water and flight because of destroyed habitats.
Persistent fears that some people have about environmental degradation ultimately impair resilience (mental toughness) and adaptability, Adli said. Young people in particular are affected by fears. "And as a psychiatrist who usually alleviates fears, I have to say: These fears are justified." Ultimately, social cohesion is impaired, which the debate about climate activists of the "last generation" shows only too well.
The experts also describe new terms: climate anxiety and solastalgia (mourning for lost living space). Charité expert Heinz rated them as "serious psychological stress factors".
The message that people are not at the mercy of but can do something is important to the experts. You also take a good look at your own nose, as Meyer-Lindenberg put it, and presented a voluntary commitment. Among other things, psychiatry should be made sustainable and climate-neutral.