How Natural Disasters Affect Mental Health
Reporting By: Jaylene Matias
Natural Disasters that are caused by climate change are linked to anxiety-related responses and severe mental health disorders. As a result of floods that occur and prolonged droughts, anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorders have increased significantly. The trauma of losing your home or your job, or dealing with the deaths of a loved one caused by a natural disaster can contribute to anxiety and depression. People are negatively impacted physically (i.e., by loss of home and personal belongings), but did you know about the long-term mental effects?
Natural disasters have been associated with the increase of aggressive behavior in an individual and in many cases that aggressive behavior has been linked to domestic violence. Areas that have been affected by high heat temperatures can lead to increased use of alcohol and drugs and an increase in suicide cases.
Climate change is impacting millions of people negatively, especially the people who are more vulnerable for example, Children, the elderly, the chronically ill, people with cognitive or mobility impairments, pregnant and postpartum women, and people with mental illness. People with lower socioeconomic status are also vulnerable to the aftereffects of a natural disaster caused by climate change
People who already have mental health disorders are even more affected by natural disasters. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Psychiatric medications can interfere with a person’s ability to regulate heat and their awareness that their body temperature is rising, which then leads to injury and death.
Children who are impacted by a natural disaster are affected because they are likely to develop trauma-related symptoms that can possibly get worse as they get older if they are not monitored. The trauma comes as a result of separation from their caregivers, evacuating from their homes and parental distress can contribute to children’s distress.
Mental health consequences are also likely to occur for first responders and emergency workers during extreme natural disasters. In many cases, they will be both a responder and a victim. They take care of individuals affected by a disaster and they may have to take care of their own families. Many responders are exposed to the death of thousands of people and that can be taxing. They put their life on the line to help others and as result, it can lead to their own injury or death.
With climate change comes migration, food scarcity, or loss of employment, all of which have consequences for mental health. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, since 2008 more than 20 million people have been forced to relocate because of natural disasters. Coastal erosion and drought are also causing people to flee their homes. Climate change can affect how much food there is left and can potentially increase diseases that are transmitted by insects. Climate change has a significant impact on the mental health of an individual and the number of people who develop a mental health disorder will continue to increase as the number of natural disasters occurring each year increases