Mental Health & Our Changing Climate

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 9.48.56 AMIn June 2014, the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica published an important report, Beyond Storms & 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.

Yesterday, an updated report, Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, was released and I am pleased to be an Editor and a Contributor on this report. The shared goal is to continue to increase awareness and understanding of the psychological impacts of climate change, and to continue dialogue on this important topic.


From the Introduction to the Report:

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.

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The Mental Health Impacts of Ecological Grief in a Changing Climate

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.

Stimulating a Canadian Narrative for Climate Action

For the last few years, I’ve been working with a group of over 60 scholars, scientists, and decision-makers from throughout Canada, and representing multiple disciplines and backgrounds, to discover and promote possible pathways towards a low-carbon economy.

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Working together with this group, and with representatives from civil society from Coast to Coast to Coast, we produced a set of insights and recommendations for climate change actions and potential models for engagement.

The resulting article, Stimulating a Canadian Narrative for Climate, was just published through Open Access in FACETS. Click on the picture below to access the article in full text.

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eNuk App Featured on CBC’s Spark

In December, our Team was featured on CBC’s Spark, discussing the eNuk app, a community-designed and community-led environment and health monitoring system designed by Inuit in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut.


For generations, the Labrador Inuit have relied on traditional knowledge to understand the intricacies of their landscape and seascape: Which ice is safe, where animals congregate, and so on.

But climate change is, well, changing all that.

And in an area where a misstep can cost a life, community members and researchers have come together to make eNuk, a smartphone and tablet app that allows people to share pictures and information about the land.

To listen, click here.

To read a longer article, and watch a short video, click here.

Reflecting on “Research Matters Pop-Up Research Park” at Parliament Hill

By Alexandra Sawatzky (PhD Student, Dept. of Population Medicine) and Dr. Sherilee Harper (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Population Medicine), on behalf of the InukNet Team.

On May 18th, Sheri and I travelled to Ottawa to take part in the “Research Matters Pop-Up Research Park” at Parliament Hill. We were both honoured and humbled to represent the University of Guelph at this gathering.

Shortly after our arrival at Parliament, we headed upstairs to attend Question Period in the House of Commons. Having the chance to experience this snapshot of political life firsthand was incredible, an added bonus to our already stimulating day.

Following Question Period, we made our way down the hall to set up for the Pop-Up Research Park. The Research Park served as an opportunity for us, alongside other Ontario university researchers, students, and industry or community partners, to engage with MPs and other senior government officials to discuss and share our research.

Each pair or group of researchers was asked to stand under a banner displaying a photo that described our work, as well as a catalytic question that was meant to ignite conversation. While there was an incredible diversity of research topics around the room, all topics related to issues impacting Canadians where they live and work. Sheri and I were there to speak about our experiences working alongside the Inuit community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Labrador to develop a participatory environment-health surveillance program. As our work is premised on creating and maintaining strong relationships with this community, we posed the question: Can community-university collaboration enhance Inuit health and wellbeing?

We connected with MPs from across the country, including Yvonne Jones, MP for Labrador. Sheri also had the honour of meeting Dr. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health. Although we were mainly discussing ideas and themes specific to our research, these ideas and themes – such as the theme of collaboration – resonated with everyone we spoke with. Indeed, we also engaged in discussions about the overarching reason that brought us all together in the first place – the importance of strengthening partnerships and communication between research, government, industry, and communities.

Strong partnerships and effective communication are needed in order to support innovation, collaboration, and better futures for all sectors of society. Research-based innovation would not be possible without the partnerships between industry, academia, and government –partnerships that are created and reinforced through events such as this Research Park.

Participating in this event demonstrated to us how important it is to connecting researchers with government, industry, and community representatives throughout the entire research process – from development to implementation to evaluation. Indeed, developing and growing our perspectives on, and approaches to, research and innovation cannot be done in isolation. Rather, creating and pursuing strong partnerships across disciplines and sectors can help us all to pursue better approaches to research, policy, and practice that are aligned with the needs, goals, and priorities of all those involved.


InukBook Project Featured in Canadian Geographic

This past week, members of the InukBook Team attended the Adaptation Canada conference in Ottawa, Ontario, including Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. James Ford, Anna Bunce, Derrick Pottle, and Jamie Snook. I had the privilege of representing the team, and presenting our project to a large audience of researchers, decision-makers, government representatives, Indigenous leaders, NGOs.

A journalist from Canadian Geographic wrote a feature on our project, highlighting the potential the InukBook has to support Inuit in making near real-time decisions through active monitoring of environment and health conditions. As an excerpt explains:

All the data that’s collected is specifically meant to meet local and regional needs and priorities,” said Willox. “While we expect much of it will be able to be expanded and inform other parts of the polar North, the key right now is to find a way for Nunatsiavut residents to be able to respond to what they’re experiencing at both the climatic change level and the impacts on health.”

To read the article, click on the picture below.

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New Article: IPCC Reports & Indigenous Inclusion

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guides global thought and action on climate change, bridging research, science, policy, and politics.

Yet, as we argue in a newly-published paper in Nature Climate Change, Indigenous voices, issues, and perspectives have been under-represented, leading to disparities in representation and gaps in policy and recommendations. We argue that the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) needs to better incorporate Indigenous leadership, knowledge, and ways of knowing in order to provide a more accurate and robust representation of climate change, mitigation, and adaptation.


The IPCC is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, forming the interface between science, policy and global politics. Indigenous issues have been under-represented in previous IPCC assessments. In this Perspective, we analyse how indigenous content is covered and framed in the Working Group II (WGII) portion of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). We find that although there is reference to indigenous content in WGII, which increased from the Fourth Assessment Report, the coverage is general in scope and limited in length, there is little critical engagement with indigenous knowledge systems, and the historical and contextual complexities of indigenous experiences are largely overlooked. The development of culturally relevant and appropriate adaptation policies requires more robust, nuanced and appropriate inclusion and framing of indigenous issues in future assessment reports, and we outline how this can be achieved.

IPCC Article released