Climate’s effect on mental health

More stories from Madison Pickul

Climate change is defined as a change in global or regional climate patterns, but it is has created a change in mental health, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The disorder is a type of depression related to seasonal changes that starts and ends at the same times every year. Most people’s symptoms start in Autumn and continue on into Winter, which lowers energy levels and causes mood swings. Some people experience the opposite and have symptoms from Spring to Summer.

Symptoms of Autumn and Winter SAD include; irritability, weight gain, and oversleeping, while the Spring and Summer SAD symptoms include; weight loss, depression, and anxiety. In both cases, symptoms can start out mild and become more severe as the seasons progresses. People ages 14 and up are most commonly affected by SAD.

Another way climate affects mental health is natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and tornadoes. According to psychologist and a professor at the University of New Orleans, Carl F. Weems, “An intensely traumatic event will have a substantial effect on the mental health of many survivors.”

“The more severe and intense your exposure to traumatic experiences during a disaster, the more likely that you will have severe mental health symptoms. If you watch someone die or your house floods, you tend to have more intense effects.” Weems research suggests that 25 to 50 percent of all people exposed to an extreme weather disaster may experience negative mental health effects.

Heat is the temperature that can have the most negative effect on your mental health. Due to the rise in global temperature it can lead to increased heat exposure, It’s been suggested there is a relationship between aggressive behavior and rising temperatures. This is shown through the rise in crime rates during the summer months. Events such as heat waves have been associated with mood and anxiety disorders, and dementia.

“In this country alone we expect that over 200 million Americans will have some mental health problem because of climate change,” according to Elizabeth Haase, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Neshaminy senior, Caitlin O’Neill, and her mother both suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. O’Neill said, “The winter months are the worst for me and because of SAD my school work suffers.” She has missed multiple days of school due to the lack of motivation to do anything and her grades go down from A’s to B’s.

“I feel teachers should be aware of SAD,” O’Neill responded when asked if she thought teachers were aware some students suffer from SAD. O’Neill went on to say that, “If a teacher notices a student struggling for no obvious reasons then they should talk to them. Just by talking to a student they can make it slightly less stressful for them.”