Mental health and climate change
By: Dominic Kniveton
Last updated: Monday, 8 November 2021
Over the 18 months the Brighton and Sussex Medical School's Lisa Page and staff from the School of Gobal Studies, Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson and Dominic Kniveton, have been helping shape the the Royal College of Psychiatrists position paper on our planet’s climate and ecological emergency (see RCPsych declares a climate and ecological emergency).
The paper highlights that climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss:
- have created a health crisis and it is imperative that psychiatrists are informed about it and actively engaged in these issues.
- are interconnected factors which individually and collectively have a profoundly destructive impact on human and planetary health. Our actions and their impacts will be inherited by the generations to come.
- have particular implications for mental health and disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, including persons with pre-existing mental illness and children.
A sustainable and positive vision of mental health services will require a greater understanding, adoption and integration of preventative principles and interventions. This preventative ethos must be placed at the heart of healthcare:
- The NHS is a major contributor to carbon emissions – in England it accounts for 4–5% of the total (NHS England 2020a).
- Improving NHS sustainability cannot be achieved merely through rationalising estates, it must involve a more holistic approach to health creation, health protection, and a model of healthcare where prevention is prioritised by services.
- Detecting and treating illnesses early to halt or slow their progress can reduce relapses, and prevent patients deteriorating to the point of needing hospitalisation; this approach increases efficiency and is an essential part of making healthcare more sustainable.
- Preventative healthcare is not an alternative that will undermine medicine, but rather champions wellness and seeks to mitigate the incidence and progression of illnesses where possible.