Research into mental health and climate change needed now to avert crisis

The impacts of climate change on gender-based violence and mental health are two of the most prolific and least understood areas of study, according to the Centre for Climate Justice.

This theme, and the centre’s own work in this field, was the focus of a COP26 WHO Health Pavilion side-event, which put the spotlight on the lived experiences of women’s mental health and climate change, and explored the development of a research framework for building further insights.

A panel of speakers discussed what needs to be done in terms of the development of policy and practical solutions that can support the mental-health needs of women and girls, as well as protecting their human right to health.

Professor Tahseen Jafry, Director of the Centre for Climate Justice, said: “There has been little research to date that explores the relationship between these issues, the overlapping risk factors and the extent of the problem.

“Climate change is exacerbating issues of mental health and gender-based violence in countries all over the world, but more research is needed in countries like Malawi, for example, that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change but lack data on the impact climate change has on mental health and gender-based violence.

“Just to get our own research off the ground in this area was very difficult. Trying to convince people that we need this data, and that it is a very real issue, was a challenge. We need to all work in partnership, not in silos, or the burgeoning mental-health crisis is only going to get worse.”

Ashley Komangaapik Rose Cummings, Indigenous rights activist for Inuit communities in Canada and member of Canadian Prime Minister’s Youth Council, said: “Many Inuit people can’t access mental-health support and they are further marginalised by the government’s lack of action on climate change. I am here today to hold my government to account.”

Peter Gondwe, Executive Director, Life Concern Organisation – Malawi, said: “When there is a climate disaster, we focus on what people have lost, such as infrastructure, but the consequence of people losing everything is mental-health issues and gender-based violence. It’s the invisible damage.”

Runa Khan, Founder and Executive Director of Friendship, said: “We work with gender-based violence and mental-health issues in migrant communities, but, in this, we don’t have any mark from which to start. The research is lacking and, when it is there, it’s very difficult to get the truth.”

Steve Trent, CEO and Founder of Environmental Justice Foundation, said: “Being removed from your culture and country as a climate migrant must have a devastating impact on your mental health. This issue is crying out for greater ambition and action and we need to hear the voices of those impacted.”

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