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Mental Health Effects

How does climate change affect mental health?

The mental health effects of climate change include those directly related to the physical and traumatic consequences of severe weather events, as well as anxiety, fear and distress associated with slower-moving stressors, perceptions and attempts to understand and respond appropriately to climate change and its implications. The effects of climate change on mental health and well-being are not isolated but interact with other social and environmental determinants of health, including race and income. Livelihoods and cultural identities are negatively affected by Oregon’s changing landscapes and will disproportionately affect farmworkers, fishers, tribal and indigenous people. Youth with depression and anxiety are at increased risk for worsening symptoms. Since 2011, youth (10-24 years of age) suicide rates have seen significant increases (OHA’s Youth Suicide Intervention and Prevention Plan Annual Report).

2021 Study on Climate Change Impacts to Youth Mental Health in Oregon

The Climate and Health Program is leading a study to better understand how climate change affects mental health in Oregon, particularly among youth populations. In partnership with the University of Oregon’s Suicide Prevention Research Lab and The Hearth, the program will summarize findings from a series of youth focus groups, listening circles, key informant interviews, and literature review. In June 2021, the program hosted an informational webinar and will host another virtual meeting with youth in the fall.

More Background

The 2014 Oregon Climate and Health Profile Report identified mental health risks associated with climate impacts projected to increase in frequency and magnitude in Oregon, including heat events, drought, wildfire, sea-level rise, floods and storms.

The 2017 Oregon Climate and Health Resilience Plan prioritized strategies to “learn from and collaborate with mental health partners” and to “acknowledge and support social networks and social cohesion” as protective factors.

In early 2020, Governor Brown hosted a climate change meeting with health sector leaders where several participants highlighted mental health implications, with adolescents identified as a population of concern. In March 2020, Governor Kate Brown issued Executive Order (EO) 20-04 directing State Agencies to take action on climate change. The EO included a number of general directives to state agencies, as well as three directives specific to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). One of those specific directives was to lead a study and deliver a report on the impacts of climate change on youth depression and mental health in Oregon.

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