Climate change presents a range of health challenges for BC communities, including impacts on both physical and mental health. With increasing summer temperatures, air quality can be expected to decline and more frequent wildfires will increase levels of particulate matter in the air, which is an aggravator of respiratory illnesses. Increasing temperature and summer rains can lead to higher instances of vector-borne disease and invasive species, such as ticks. Hotter days overall and recurring days of extreme heat will disproportionately impact populations that are at risk, such as low-income groups and seniors. Communities are working on strategies such as public cooling centres and water fountains to prevent these at-risk groups from facing heat exhaustion or fatalities.
These combined impacts will build pressure on our health systems and collective action is needed to ensure that our health facilities are resilient and can provide sufficient care during periods of patient-surge.
Climate change has not only profound impacts on physical health, but on mental health as well. Most commonly studied are the psychological impacts after extreme events, such as flooding or wildfires. The disaster’s damage to property and evacuations can lead to burdens on mental health as people cope with loss of their homes, businesses and community. Mental health support during climate emergencies is a critical need.
There is also increasing recognition that mental health effects of climate change can be felt by those who have not experienced an extreme event. With more frequent emergence in popular culture, terms like “climate grief” and “eco-anxiety” refer to psychological responses of anxiety and grief in response to the threat of environmental and social losses from climate change. As awareness is raised around this mental health issue, organizations are responding with tools and guidance around supporting those who are experiencing climate grief.