For the first time, the United Nations climate science body has drawn attention to the mental health difficulties posed by rising temperatures and extreme weather events. Experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shared that with temperature changes and extreme weather events, mental health difficulties such as anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are expected to become more prevalent among the general public. According to World Health Organization (WHO), around 30–50% of disaster-affected people suffer from moderate to severe psychological distresses as a result of significant exposure to trauma, injury, or death of a loved one, and lack of social support (Neria, et al., 2010). Several studies are being conducted in Bangladesh that link climate change or disasters with mental health. However, there is limited knowledge of steps that can be taken to ensure people’s mental well-being after disasters. To address this, SAJIDA Foundation held a session at Gobeshona Conference titled “Addressing Mental Health Stress Related to Climate Change and Disaster Management”. Through exchange of dialogue with key local and international stakeholders, SAJIDA attempted to identify the mental stress factors caused by climate change and the initiatives that can be taken to address this. The session also explored avenues of financial support and partnership development to strengthen the capacities of local healthcare facilities.

The session commenced with an introduction by Dr. Samiya A Selim, Adviser, SAJIDA Foundation Climate Change and Disaster Management Unit; followed by a discussion on Mental Health Issues and How They Can Play with Our Mood. Key findings on anxiety and depression in relation to climate change were highlighted through the discussion, including how depression and anxiety increases during the dry season compared to monsoon, and the rate of depression is the highest in Dhaka and Chittagong. Moreover, men are more susceptible to developing anxiety disorders compared to women.

The session further focused on migrants’ experience in meeting their healthcare needs in the midst of climate change and how they tackle these challenges considering how climate change poses a significant threat to health creating psychosocial issues, malnutrition, infectious disease, injury, mortality, and non-communicable diseases.

Additionally, SAJIDA’s Climate Change and Disaster Management (CCDM) Program shared important insight on the link between climate change and mental health based on surveys and FGDs conducted on 775 participants of two climate vulnerable areas- Gabura and Mongla. These are closely connected to livelihood as depression is very strongly related to economic stability and physical health. Due to a lack of support in the community, a significant number of people suffering from mental health challenges do not seek support and face long-term implications.

As the session progressed, it shed light on how Bangladesh needs to factor mental health into disaster response policies. The main stressors behind mental health conditions were loss, damage, and bad experiences associated with riverbank erosion, some of which can be life-threatening leading the sufferers to require immediate support.

The conclusion emphasized on two important factors. First, natural disasters pose a substantial threat to the mental health of frontline climate workers and disaster management teams, and the lack of a proper support system that prevails for this community. Secondly, the climate change migrants are in dire need of support as they are the most vulnerable group; especially women, children, and people with disabilities.

SAJIDA Foundation’s Gobeshona Conference Session acknowledged that individuals have inadequate knowledge regarding mental health challenges, as a result, they don’t seek help. Stigma, lack of knowledge, inadequate training, and a scarcity of relevant resources are just a few of the many roadblocks that stand in the way. This is why SAJIDA Foundation has established the Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic (PHWC) while facilitating a larger SAJIDA Mental Health Program to help fight these roadblocks, and is working towards becoming a forerunner in providing accessible mental health services for all. People who are in desperate need of a functional mental health support system can reach out to three continuing SAJIDA Mental Health Programs- Shojon, Residential Facility, and Kaan Pete Roi for help.

Additionally, to mitigate the roadblocks towards accessible mental health services for low and ultra-poor population, an integrated and collaborative strategy has been developed by SAJIDA’s Climate Change and Disaster Management Program from evidence-based research. The strategy entails engaging para-counsellors and community health workers (CHWs) to detect mental health issues in the community, providing counselling support, and referring clients appropriately for further assessment through Shojon’s teleservices.

To successfully mitigate the mental health stigma and crisis prevailing in the country, a holistic approach is necessary; and an effective starting point is creating awareness about the interconnectivity between climate change and mental health. This can play a significant role in building a support network since knowledge and availability of information are two key factors if carried out with accuracy. Furthermore, climate-resilient health systems need to be migrant-inclusive if they are to be responsive to an increasingly mobile population. In the end, all involved stakeholders of the session agreed that the connection between mental health in the context of climate change is mostly ignored, this, more related research needs to be done in this area in order to bring more substantial change to the lives of all those involved.

Authors’ Bio

Pragga Nilanjana Saha is working as Young Professional, SAJIDA Foundation

Shariaj Ibna Mizan Shuprio is working as Officer, Climate change & Disaster Management Unit, SAJIDA Foundation