Mental health ignored at COP28 despite huge impact, say experts

Experts indicate that despite the alarming statistics, mental health is absent from the core agenda at COP28. [iStockphoto]

Experts have raised concerns over the failure of the COP28 summit in Dubai to discuss the impact of environmental crises on mental health.

With the escalating climate emergency, the psychological toll on individuals and communities is becoming increasingly apparent.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has underscored the lasting impacts of climate change on mental health and psychosocial well-being.

Experts indicate that despite the alarming statistics, mental health is absent from the core agenda at COP28.

They have decried underfunding, saying only two per cent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health, and only 13 mental health workers are available for every 100,000 persons.

“This underfunding, coupled with pre-existing mental health burdens, leaves gaping holes in addressing the mental health fallout of climate change,” said Douglas Otieno, executive director of Tinada Youth Action Africa.

Data indicates that the annual cost of common mental disorders, already staggering at $1 trillion, is poised to escalate in the face of the climate crisis.

“Governments continue to overlook the mental health implications of climate change, perpetuating a global oversight that could have devastating consequences for individuals and communities,” she said.

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report early this year reinforced the urgency of integrating mental health considerations into climate policies.

The report states that climate-related illnesses, premature deaths, malnutrition and threats to mental health are all on the rise globally.

The report also highlights the inadequacy of health systems to respond to these challenges, with mental health support being particularly deficient.

“Vulnerable groups, such as indigenous populations, children and adolescents emerge as the hardest hit by the psychological distress brought on by climate change,” said Rose Kobusinge, a Ugandan climate justice activist.

“Disruptions to natural environments and unprecedented psychological distress threaten the well-being of these groups on an unprecedented scale.”

The WHO’s five key approaches to address mental health impacts have been reiterated: Integration into policies, building upon global commitments, implementing multisectoral and community-based approaches, addressing funding gaps, and expanding research and awareness.

A recent study conducted in ten countries on 10,000 young people (aged 16-25) revealed that nearly 60 per cent of the population said they feel “very worried” or “extremely worried”.

Many also associated negative emotions – feeling sad, afraid, anxious, angry and powerless – with climate change. The study shows a large number of young people globally regard governments as failing to address or act on the climate crisis in a coherent, urgent way, expressing that they feel betrayal and abandonment both individually and on behalf of future generations.

Another study reported that young people are factoring climate anxiety into their decisions on whether to have children, with 97 per cent saying they were concerned about the well-being of children in the future.

Climate change is now recognised as catastrophic harm to children’s health, with more than 88 per cent of the current burden of disease attributable to climate change.

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