Essay by Eric Worrall
Even the New York Times criticised the politicised incompetence of the WHO in 2020. But the WHO appears to have failed to learn by their mistakes, their widely criticised lack of mission focus.
Why mental health is a priority for action on climate change
3 June 2022
New WHO policy brief highlights actions for countries
Climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being, concludes a new WHO policy brief, launched today at the Stockholm+50 conference. The Organization is therefore urging countries to include mental health support in their response to the climate crisis, citing examples where a few pioneering countries have done this effectively.
The findings concur with a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in February this year. The IPPC revealed that rapidly increasing climate change poses a rising threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being; from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behavior.
“The impacts of climate change are increasingly part of our daily lives, and there is very little dedicated mental health support available for people and communities dealing with climate-related hazards and long-term risk,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO.
The mental health impacts of climate change are unequally distributed with certain groups disproportionately affected depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender and age. However, it is clear that climate change affects many of the social determinants that are already leading to massive mental health burdens globally. A 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries found that only 9 have thus far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans.
“The impact of climate change is compounding the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and mental health services globally. There are nearly 1 billion people living with mental health conditions, yet in low- and middle-income countries, 3 out of 4 do not have access to needed services” said Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “By ramping up mental health and psychosocial support within disaster risk reduction and climate action, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk.”
The new WHO policy brief recommends five important approaches for governments to address the mental health impacts of climate change:
- integrate climate considerations with mental health programmes;
- integrate mental health support with climate action;
- build upon global commitments;
- develop community-based approaches to reduce vulnerabilities; and
- close the large funding gap that exists for mental health and psychosocial support.
“WHO’s Member States have made it very clear mental health is a priority for them. We are working closely with countries to protect people’s physical and mental health from climate threats,” said Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO climate lead, and an IPCC lead author.
Some good examples exist of how this can be done such as in the Philippines, which has rebuilt and improved its mental health services after the impact of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 or in India, where a national project has scaled up disaster risk reduction in the country while also preparing cities to respond to climate risks and address mental health and psychosocial needs.
The Stockholm Conference commemorates the 50th anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment and recognizes the importance of environmental determinants for both physical and mental health.
Note to editors
WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
WHO defines mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) as “any type of local or outside support that aims to protect or promote psychosocial well-being and/or prevent or treat mental disorder”.
For more information please contact:
WHO media inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m not saying the WHO has forgotten all about their core mission of fighting pandemics. The WHO is currently in the midst of what appears to be a major power grab.
The World Health Organization’s response to criticism over their mishandling of the Covid pandemic appears to be they didn’t have the resources or authority they needed to provide an adequate response, so a push is on for them to be granted more say over national health responses to future pandemics.
I don’t know whether or how the WHO’s far fetched assertions that warm weather is bad for our mental health fit into the WHO’s vision of an enlarged role in global health governance and pandemic responses, but I’m sure many of you share my discomfort in such an organisation being granted any kind of additional authority. In my opinion they should be disbanded for incompetence, not rewarded with a greater say over our lives.