Mind games – why do we continue to ignore climate change?

Daniel Maughan's picture

Why is it that doctors, whose aim it is to improve health are, with the emissions associated with delivering healthcare, adding significantly to the health threat posed by climate change? One reason could be that climate change is too complex a phenomenon with which to engage, a circumstance which, combined with the complexity of mental health, has led to paralysis.

This problem is reviewed in an editorial published this month in BJPsych International by Professor Helen Berry and me. In fact this issue of the journal had a theme on climate change and mental health. In two other articles, the evidence for the mental health consequences of climate change are discussed in this issue. Which are both profound and worrying.

But what we can do about this as psychiatrists? One suggestion is made by a further paper in this themed edition, which suggests that non-attendance at clinic appointments is one factor that is potentially significantly contributing to wasted clinical resource, increased subsequent health care use and therefore an increased carbon footprint of mental health care.

We do not have to ignore this issue as psychiatrists, there are ways that we can improve the quality of care that can have a dramatic effect on the carbon footprint of the services we deliver. More thought needs to be given to the principles of sustainable health care; prevention, empowerment, lean service design and lower carbon technologies.

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Other items of interest

Michelle Furtado's picture

Hi Daniel,

Many thanks for the articles - very useful and interesting. I'm promoting the Sustainability in Psychiatry Occasional Paper widely too.

You might well have read this already, however another useful book examining the human response to climate change is "Engaging with Climate Change" edited by Sally Weintrobe and published by Routledge. This book aims to understand why we are so poor at engaging with the subject and potentially understand how future conversations can be framed to enable action.

Additionally, the work of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has looked specifically at climate change and social justice - again, very interesting work that others may find useful. I did try to cut-and-paste the link here but it wouldn't let me, so go to www.jrf.org.uk and search under climate change/social justice.

EDIT: The JRF and partners have developed a mapping tool looking at community vulnerability to climate change - could be useful in emergency planning for mental health services; understanding where might be most affected during extreme weather events for example. Find it at: www.climatejust.org.uk.

Keep up the good work!

Kind regards, Michelle

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