Climate change and mental health

Climate change debates seem to threaten mental health at times, but this is a different angle, on the effects of extreme weather events related to climate change on mental health.

Ronald Fischer, from the School of Psychology at Victoria University (I think it’s still called that) has given a lecture on this.

Newsroom: What climate change could do to mental health

Heatwaves and other extreme weather events caused by climate change could have profound implications for personality traits and mental health, Ronald Fischer warned in his inaugural public lecture as a Professor of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington.

Referencing an article published earlier this year in Scientific Reports, an online journal from the publisher of Nature, Fischer spoke about research showing that people with the same genetic make-up might have very different personalities depending on the climate where they live.

The article, based on research by Fischer, Victoria University of Wellington Master’s student Anna Lee and Dr Machteld Verzijden from Aarhus University in Denmark, says the impact on personality of genes regulating dopamine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain, is most pronounced in climatically stressful environments.

“If you are in a challenging climate and your genetic system is not as efficient in processing rewards or regulating potential challenges, then you might feel more stressed and more likely to be unwell,” said Fischer in his lecture.

“On the other hand, if you have a system that is not so well off but you live in an environment where life is very chilled out, there’s no challenge, so basically there shouldn’t be a strong effect on how you feel.”

He warned: “If you have followed the news – for example the incredible heatwaves in Europe – what kind of challenges will we see in the near future when climate becomes more extreme and we have to create more mental health services for people who might need that?”

An interesting question.

If we have more and worse ‘extreme weather events’ people will get more stressed, during those events and for some people adversely effected by things like flood and wind damage, those stresses can have longer effects.

On the other hand there is also the potential for less stress.

Driving on frosty streets, especially when trying to get to work at the time on a winter morning when frosts can be at their worst, can be quite stressful, as can the occasional snowstorm. We have had five consecutive unusually non-severe winters in Dunedin, and very few frost stress mornings.

People could also stress unnecessarily over possible future problems that don’t eventuate.

Or if are not suitably prepared and we get unexpected weather severity it could raise stress levels.

Then there’s the stress of getting your next house insurance bill that has escalated due to perceived climate change risks.

Sit comfortably, breathe gently, then debate.