Climate Change and Mental Health
New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists
The latest IPCC report on climate change paints a disturbing picture of coming worldwide disruption. This
includes a profound, long-term impact for collective mental health mental health. As a first response, the
New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists (NZAP) proposes five immediate, simple public actions.
NZAP supports Ora Taio’s concern around the massive changes ahead and the impact so far. Extensive international
research echoes IPCC predictions of accelerating mental health risks. NZAP’s Chair of Public Issues, Dr John
Farnsworth, notes that climate change and mental health are closely connected. He points to recent
research which shows how the increase in extreme events – wildfires, floods, relocation, the loss of
communities and social support systems – escalate increased PTSD, depression and anxiety. These, in turn,
amplify substance abuse, violence and communal distress.
NZAP also highlights slower, long-term threats from climate change. These include an eroding sense of safety
and sense of place created by the onset of hot cities, eroding coastlines, relocation, drought and competition
for resources. All of these are forecast in the IPCC report. Together, they highlight a coming erosion of
foundational security. In turn this will lead to intensified mental health disturbances and greater pressure on
resources. John Farnsworth comments, ‘a deteriorating world threatens not only our core sense of security,
but also the security that’s central to well-functioning democratic systems.’
NZAP urges five immediate proposals to anticipate consequences in the IPCC report.
1. Prepare rapid response mental health measures to combat the effects of severe climate events such as
flooding, fires and other disasters. Effective strategies such as critical incident debriefs and response
units, already exist. These can be readily deployed with minimal private or government funding.
2. We urge the development of cross-government strategies for the longer-term. Preventative measures
are not only cost effective; they allow planning at regional and national levels and they address the
different experiences of New Zealand’s rural and urban regions.
3. We support protecting the mental health of scientists and media people who face burnout as they
engage with the crisis and risk leaving their professions when we most need them
4. We support the protection of children and young people, whose mental health is at risk, as identified in
research by Caroline Hickman and others.
5. We urge planning to be widely focused on mental health. To look beyond the Ministry of Health to all
ministries, to business and communities so that advice and information can enable direct community
participation. This is key to long-term national mental health wellbeing and consistent with the 2018 He
Ara Oranga Report on Mental Health and Addictions.
We emphasize how small a window we have to act, as the IPCC report demonstrates. That action must
include mental health as part of an effective, whole-of-society response.
Dr John Farnsworth
Chair, Public Issues, NZAP