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Psychiatrists Say Strong Leadership On Climate Vital To Mental Health

Psychiatrists are warning inaction on climate change by political leaders is harming people’s mental health, in particular young people.

It’s one of several links between climate change and mental health being discussed at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) annual Congress in Sydney from 16 to 19 May.

RANZCP President, Associate Professor Vinay Lakra, said climate change was the biggest health challenge of the 21st Century.

“As psychiatrists we’re seeing a marked increase in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in people whose lives and livelihoods are being threatened by severe weather events like floods, bushfires, heatwaves and droughts,” Associate Professor Lakra said.

Sydney child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Cybele Dey, who will present at the conference, said more than three in four young people are worried about climate change, but strong leadership and action on climate can help.

“Many kids today feel betrayed by our leaders, but there is clear medical research that shows that when they see leaders take meaningful action on climate change, their mental health improves,” Dr Dey said.

“There are also proven mental health benefits to connecting with others who share your concerns and taking personal action based on your values, for example planting trees or climate activism.

“At the same time, individual action alone is not enough. Good mental health is linked to having a realistic hope that governments will do what scientists recommend and reduce fossil fuel emissions this decade to prevent global warming of more than 1.5°C.”

It’s a message Climate Council founder Professor Tim Flannery will also deliver in his keynote address at the conference on Tuesday.

“Maintaining our mental health in the face of the climate crisis is essential. Without good mental health, our efforts will themselves not be sustainable,” Professor Flannery said.

Together with other medical colleges, the RANZCP has been calling on the government to commit to a national climate and health strategy, fund its implementation and invest more in research on how to safeguard people's health in the face of climate threats.

“As the climate crisis worsens, the medical and scientific evidence shows the health impacts – including for people’s mental health – will only get worse,” Associate Professor Lakra said.

“Whichever party forms government must take action to address climate change and create a plan for supporting the mental health of Australians in the face of climate threats.”

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