A major report warns that global warming threatens human health

As temperatures continue to rise around the world, so too are the profound effects on our health, including our mental health, according to a major report by nearly 100 experts, including the World Health Organization, recently published by The Lancet Countdown. This seventh annual report builds on previous reports, echoing a dire warning about the health consequences of global warming.

While some effects of standard high temperatures may be more predictable – such as increased illness due to exposure to heat waves and extremely high temperatures – other effects, such as an increased risk of mental health problems and an increase in the spread of infection are less obvious effects which can have Global effects, the report said.

According to the report, extreme increases in temperature and heat waves have been associated with poor mental health and increased suicide.

“Climate change affects people’s mental health through a variety of different pathways,” Dr. Marina Romanello, executive director of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, told ABC News.

“Some are more obvious and easily traceable, such as the profound mental health effects of disasters related to extreme weather events,” Romanello said. “However, the effects of climate change on mental health can also come from, for example, extreme heat exposure, which has been associated in the literature with increased interpersonal violence, crime, and self-harm.”

Photo: This photo posted on May 29, 2017, shows researchers digging sediment-collecting holes in Lake Hazen in Nunavut, to investigate how climate change could increase the risk of

This published image taken on May 29, 2017 and made available by Graham Colby on October 17, 2022, shows researchers drilling sediment-collecting holes in Lake Hazen in Nunavut, to investigate how climate change may increase the risk of “viral spread”. A warming climate could cause viruses in the Arctic to contact new environments and hosts, increasing the risk of “viral spread,” according to research published on October 19, 2022.

Graham Colby/Graham Colby/AFP via Getty Images

With climate change, the report said, young people in particular are becoming more susceptible to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and sleep problems.

“84 percent of young people have moderate to severe anxiety about climate change,” Dr. Elizabeth Haas, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Climate Change and Mental Health, told ABC News. “Beyond the ongoing stresses that follow severe weather, comes more drug and alcohol use, more child abuse and domestic violence, more poverty, poor diets, increased homelessness, and fractured families and communities.”

In addition to these profound effects on mental health, the report details how rising temperatures put our physical health at risk.

Heat-related deaths for those over 65 years old rose nearly 70% from 2000-2004 to 2017-2021. Exposure to extreme temperatures is associated with heat stroke, kidney injury, and exacerbation of existing heart and lung disease. As temperatures rise, there is also an increase in the prevalence and survival of some infectious diseases, resulting in an increased risk of infectious disease outbreaks in general.

“The accelerating health impact of climate change is becoming increasingly evident. It has devastating health effects,” Dr. George Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told ABC News. “The new Lancet report further documents the devastation that climate change is causing to the world’s population.”

With all these potential health impacts – is our health system, which has recently come under strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ready to deal with these potential consequences? not exactly. “The health sector’s response to date has been insufficient and must be greatly increased because global health is in immediate danger,” Benjamin said.

Photo: Karina Joseph, 19, comforts her 2-year-old daughter Holland Sinus while she is being treated for cholera in a tent at the MSF hospital in Cite-Soleil, a densely populated town in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct.  .  15, 2022.

Karina Joseph, 19, accompanies her two-year-old daughter, Hollanda Sineus, while receiving treatment for cholera in a tent at the MSF hospital in Saint-Soleil, a densely populated town in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct. 15, 2022.

Ricardo Arduingo/Reuters

Scientists warn that society may be less prepared to deal with the effects of climate change on mental health. Just last December, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued advice on the mental health crisis for young people.

With recent significant increases in the number of young people requiring mental health services, our already understaffed mental health care system is becoming increasingly thin and unable to meet this need. Climate change is expected to increase the need for these services.

According to the Lancet report, only a minority of countries have considered the mental health impacts of climate change in their plans of action, and only one in four countries report having a program that integrates mental health into disaster preparedness programmes.

“This clearly shows that we are not preparing to counter and reduce the expected increase in mental health impacts from climate change,” Romanello said.

Anna Yigyantes, MD, MPH is a resident physician in psychiatry, and a member of the ABC News medical unit.

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