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ISTSS Releases Briefing Paper on Traumatic Impact of Climate Change

CHICAGO, IL, April 22, 2021 — The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) has released a briefing paper on the traumatic impact of climate change. Released on Earth Day, Global Climate Change and Trauma describes the current state of knowledge in relation to climate change and trauma and highlights a number of actions that can be taken to encourage rapid development and collaboration on this topic across public health, policy, clinical, and research areas.

As human beings, our physical and mental health cannot be separated from the environments in which we live. Climate change, if left unaddressed, is projected to have catastrophic consequences on the mental health of entire populations. The impacts of climate change on traumatic stress and other aspects of mental health arise primarily from problems that are collectively, though not equally, experienced. These include insufficient political will and harmful policies, increased exposure to disasters, poverty, violence, the erosion of important places and landscapes, and harms to human physical health and the health of ecosystems, among others.

Effective and feasible methods for mitigating the impacts of climate change already exist and, if promptly and appropriately implemented, have the potential of preventing trauma for generations, the paper’s authors conclude. ISTSS hopes this briefing paper will serve to highlight currently available evidence and the evidence and action needed in order to prioritize, promote, and protect the mental health and well-being of people, communities, and societies in the face of climate change.

The briefing paper describes how both acute and chronic (or gradual) climate change conditions can impact the frequency and severity of DSM-5 criterion A traumatic events which, in turn, can result in post-trauma psychopathology. It also describes a growing area of research focused on the impacts of vicariously experienced stressors and anticipation of climate change-related stressors. It highlights a range of factors that may support and enhance mental health in the context of stressful climate change conditions, promote positive collective action, and contribute to psychosocial adaptation, as well as the need for further work in these areas.

The briefing paper includes a range of relevant current and future public health, policy, clinical, and research initiatives, and makes recommendations in each of these areas.