NATURE AND MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS

There are many ways that the outdoors can improve children's mental health.  Below are some resources, check them out!

NATURAL DISASTERS

 

As a result of climate change, people today are subject to more frequent and intense natural disasters.   Adverse Childhood Events, or ACEs, are traumatic events that can lead to “toxic stress,” which damages developing brains and bodies for decades.  ACEs include physical abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence, to name just a few.  Natural disasters can be ACEs, especially if a child experiences trauma, such as loosing their home or a family member, or witnessing the stress it causes for caregivers.  For example, extreme weather events have been shown to increase interpersonal violence, especially domestic violence against women.  The more ACEs a child experiences, the higher their risk for many health problems later in life including everything from higher rates of substance use and unwanted pregnancies to cancer and HIV.  ACEs can lead to social, emotional, and cognitive impairment as well as risk-taking behaviors that lead to chronic diseases throughout life. ​ Those already suffering from mental health illness can be negatively impacted by natural disasters in devastating ways.  Extreme heat has been shown to increase emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and possibly deaths for patients with psychiatric illness.

HEAT AND AIR POLLUTION

Burning fossil fuels produces carbon pollution that drives climate change in part through emission of air pollutants, such as particulate matter.   Some studies have found that air pollution increases symptoms of depression and anxiety in children.  A 2019 study found that on days with greater air pollution, there were greater numbers of pediatric emergency room visits mental health problems like anxiety and suicidal thoughts.  Children living in low-income communities were more severely affected.  Extreme heat has been associated in many studies to increase rates of suicide.

FEAR AND GRIEF

The rapid change in our climate can have significant emotional impacts on everyone, including children.  These emotions can range from anxiety and a sense of overwhelm, to anger and extreme sadness.  Solastalgia is a newly-coined term that refers to the existential grief when a person's homeland had been impacted by environmental change. 

More information on mental health and climate change can be found on our Further Reading page, as well as well as at the Climate Psychiatry Alliance website.

Image by Jen Theodore
Image by Daphne Fecheyr
Image by K. Mitch Hodge
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