Director of the Labrador Institute of Memorial University | Canada Research Chair & Professor (2013-2016) | Researcher | Environmental Advocate | Royal Society of Canada College Member | Women for Nature Founding Member
In June 2014, the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica published an important report, BeyondStorms & Drought: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change, which outlined the numerous direct and indirect pathways through which climate change and the resulting environmental alterations impact mental health.
It is time to expand information and action on climate and health, including mental health. The health, economic, political, and environmental implications of climate change affect all of us. The tolls on our mental health are far reaching. They induce stress, depression, and anxiety; strain social and community relationships; and have been linked to increases in aggression, violence, and crime. Children and communities with few resources to deal with the impacts of climate change are those most impacted. To compound the issue, the psychological responses to climate change, such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness, and resignation are growing. These responses are keeping us, and our nation, from properly addressing the core causes of and solutions for our changing climate, and from building and supporting psychological resiliency.
This report also highlights work done in partnership with Inuit from throughout Nunatsiavut.
The ecologist (in a more than scientific sense) is someone who is touched by this loss in such a way as to mourn the toll of extinction instituted by human exemptionism and exceptionalism. She is bereft, and yet also understands that this feeling, her being touched by irrevocable loss, is itself a matter of realizing the existence of a sense of an ecological and ethical and political community with other species.
Mick Smith, 2013, p. 29
In 2016, I participated in the Advanced Study Institute, hosted by the Transcultural Psychiatry group at McGill University, led by Dr. Lawrence Kirmayer. The 2016 theme was Psychiatry for a Small Planet, and brought together an international group of researchers working on various aspects of mental health, nature, and the environment.
I was invited to speak on the ways in which ecological grief manifests within a changing climate in the North based on the Nunatsiavut-led research on climate change and mental health, and what it teaches us about our relationships with the more-than-human worlds.
Today, an agreement is being tabled at COP21, calling on over 200 countries to sign on. As we continue these national and international dialogues, it is important to remember human impacts, including human suffering, distress, and psychological impacts.
I am pleased to share this new ebook feature through Adjacent Government that was just released to coincide with COP21. Click on the picture below to access the article.
As the discussions continue at COP21, and the sense of cautious optimism continues to grow that world leaders will reach a strong and binding agreement, I am thrilled to see discussions also growing around the ways in which climatic and environmental changes can cause grief and mourning.
The interplay of environmental degradation and geopolitics has had alarming repercussions. Over the past decade alone, millions of people have been displaced by war, famine, and drought. The world is shifting rapidly as a result of climate change and there’s little doubt we’ll see increasing humanitarian crises. We must face this new reality as a global community.
Climate change is one of the most destabilizing forces in human history. We must deal with carbon emissions but we must also deal with human suffering. In Canada, Inuit are feeling the impacts disproportionately. Ice appears much later in the season and melts earlier. Changing wildlife migration patterns disrupt community livelihoods, land-based activities, and cultural practices.
Cape Breton University Canada Research Chair Ashlee Cunsolo Willox is working with Inuit to understand their communities’ climate-related mental and emotional health impacts, documenting anxiety, despair, hopelessness, and depression, increased family stress, drug and alcohol use, and suicide attempts. People are grieving for a way of life that is changing with the landscape.
These are conversations worth having. These are emotions worth considering.
Happy to have worked with a great group of students and colleagues on this paper, released through Open Access format on Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, critically examining community-based adaptation approaches within the Canadian North.
The abstract is below, but if you are interested in the full text, click here.
In June, members of our research team from across Canada and the Circumpolar North converge in Oulu, Finland, for the International Congress of Circumpolar Health. It was a great Congress, full of interesting presentations, innovations, and Indigenous leadership, all focused on improving Circumpolar health and wellness.
Our team had a number of oral presentations and posters on topics related to Circumpolar health, including climate change and mental health, cultural mentorship programs for health and resilience, youth-identified protective factors in a changing climate, impacts of climate change on remote healthcare providers, analyzing trends in Circumpolar health literature, and Inuit knowledge and adaptation to climate change.
Cunsolo Willox, A. Shiwak, I., Wood, M., the IlikKuset-Ilingannet Team, and the Rigolet Inuit Community Government. (June 2015). IlikKuset-Ilingannet/Culture-Connect: Promoting Cultural-Based Youth Mentorship Programs to Support Mental Health & Resilience in Nunatsiavut, Labrador. International Congress of Circumpolar Health, Oulu Finland.
Cunsolo Willox, A., Shiwak, I., Wood, M., the IMHACC Team, and the Rigolet Inuit Government. (June 2015). Climate Change: The Next Challenge for Circumpolar Mental Health. International Congress of Circumpolar Health, Oulu Finland.
Jones, J., Cunsolo Willox, A., and Harpers, S. (June 2015). Bridging Dichotomies in Circumpolar Health Research: Initial Findings from a Systematic Realist Review. International Congress of Circumpolar Health, Oulu Finland.
Petrasek MacDonald, J., Cunsolo Willox, A., Ford, J., Baikie, M., Shiwak, I., the IMHACC Team, and the Rigolet Inuit Community Government. (June 2015). Youth-Identified Protective factors in a Changing Climate: Perspectives from Inuit Youth in Nunatsiavut, Labrador. International Congress of Circumpolar Health, Oulu Finland.
Budden, E., Cunsolo Willox, A., Wood, M., the IMHACC Team, and the Rigolet Inuit Community Government. (June 2015). Climate Change Impacts on Remote Health Care Providers in Northern Canada: A Case Study from Nunatsiavut, Labrador. International Congress on Circumpolar Health, Oulu, Finland.
Petrasek MacDonald, J., Ford, J., Chatwood, S., Cunsolo Willox, A., Edge, V., Farahbakhsh, K., Furgal, C., Harper, S., Mauro, I., Pearce, T., and Stephenson, E. (June 2015). Inuit Traditional Knowledge for Adapting to the Health Effects of Climate Change. International Congress on Circumpolar Health, Oulu, Finland.
Jen Jones in action.
Ashlee Cunsolo Willox & Inez Shiwak on climate change and mental health in the Circumpolar North.
This past year, I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Francois Bourque, a clinical psychiatrist and PhD Candidate at Kings College London, on a manuscript aimed primarily at mental health providers around the topic of climate change and mental health. We are pleased to share our newly-published article, straight from the International Review of Psychiatry (August 2014; 26(4): 415-422).
Climate change is increasingly recognized as one of the greatest threat to human health of the 21st century, with consequences that mental health professionals are also likely to face. While physical health impacts have been increasingly emphasized in literature and practice, recent scholarly literature indicate that climate change and related weather events and environmental changes can profoundly impact psychological well-being and mental health through both direct and indirect pathways, particularly among those with pre-existing vulnerabilities or those living in ecologically-sensitive areas. Although knowledge is still limited about the connections between climate change and mental health, evidence is indicating that impacts may be felt at both the individual and community levels, with mental health outcomes ranging from psychological distress, depression and anxiety, to increased addictions and suicide rates. Drawing on examples from diverse geographical areas, this contribution highlights some climate-sensitive impacts that may be encountered by mental health professionals. We then suggest potential avenues for public mental health in light of current and projected changes, in order to stimulate thought, debate, and action.