Climate Change and Mental Health

Friday, March 20, 2015

Among the myriad of issues associated with climate change, often overlooked is the intersection between warming global temperatures and mental health. Research by Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo Willox is delving into this relationship and exposing how the loss of sea ice in coastal Labrador is impacting Inuit people spiritually.

For the Inuit people of the Labrador coast, ice provides access to the land beyond their hamlets, which are otherwise isolated by open-ocean. Hunting and trapping have been the traditional way of life for these people but shorter and more unpredictable winters are threatening the time they are able to spend on the land; the ice comes later in the season and disappears more quickly, shortening the amount of time they have to engage in traditional activities.

Through in-depth interviews and questionnaires, Dr. Cunsolo Willox is revealing the sense of loss, anger and sadness experienced by members of these communities as a result of not being able to hunt and trap the way they used to. Her documentary, Lament for the Land, is a stirring account of the changes that are taking place in Canada’s north and the emotional impacts they are having on its people.

In Australia too, researchers are looking at the intersection between mental health and climate change. Leading this research cohort is Dr. Helen Berry, who has documented the impacts of severe drought on indigenous communities, young people and farmers. Research participants express frustration, sadness and anxiety related to climactic trends. That said, they find they are able to cope by connecting with the land through gardening and other outdoor activities.