Climate Change is causing poor mental health in Kenya, Study

Climate change and mental health research should be prioritized in order to understand the scope, complexity, and trajectory of climate-related mental disorders

Climate Change is causing poor mental health in Kenya, Study

According to Dr. Pamela Nkirote, Executive Director of the African Coalition of Communities Responsive to Climate Change, there is a need to foster research in Africa that would generate evidence on the nexus between Climate Change and mental health, social cohesion, and nutrition for sustainable development.

According to Dr. Nkirote, changing weather patterns are already driving up food prices due to lower crop harvests., this is causing more stress in the family.

“Many families are struggling to make ends meet. “The link between high femicides and suicides, family violence, and climate change could be the missing piece of the puzzle,” she said.

In 2018, the Kenyan police recorded 108 femicide deaths due to family stress. According to Dr. Nkirote, although it is not yet official, the majority of depression cases are caused by individuals who are suddenly rendered poor due to climate-related events such as flooding. A wealthy man who is suddenly rendered poor due to the death of thousands of his livestock due to drought, and many other climate-related impacts.

“Husbands whose livelihoods rely on climate-dependent livestock or crop farming frequently become irritated, violent, and suicidal due to a loss of confidence in providing for their families,” said Dr. Nkirote, who is also a counselling psychologist and the President of Kenya’s International Society of Substance Use Prevention and Treatment.

Evidence-based interventions have long been advocated for by climate change activists. “Development partners must step up to support research that will inform inclusive policies, strategies, and interventions in our African communities,” she said. She went on to say that climate change is a silent threat to public health and community social cohesion that will only worsen as the planet warms.

She believes that communities are subjected to severe and frequent climate-related disasters, which exacerbates poverty and distress. These triggers are more prevalent in mental illnesses such as anxiety and mood-related disorders, as well as substance use disorders.

“There is a notable increase in health-related challenges, more so psychological well-being of individuals and communities. Climate change, to some extent, fuels insecurity, which exacerbates poor mental health.

“Climate change may be one of the indirect factors contributing to the prevalence of mental disorders,” said Dr. Nkirote, whose organization is advocating for just climate regimes in the hope of minimizing impacts at the individual and family levels.

According to a 2020 report by Kenya’s Task Force on Mental Health, Kenya is the fourth most affected country in Africa in terms of mental health, with an estimated 1.9 million people, or 4.4% of the population, suffering from depression.

Experts noted the social impacts of climate change at the recently held 27th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Sharma El Sheikh, Egypt, saying that it affects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, enough food, and secure shelter.

This was a follow-up to the WHO’s work presented at COP26 in Glasgow, UK, last year, which showed that for every person who suffers physical injury as a result of a natural hazard caused by climate change, forty will suffer psychological consequences.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Nkirote, there are various parameters of climate change that affect health, such as extreme heat, natural disasters, and variable rainfall patterns, as well as changes in disease infection patterns.

“Climate change exacerbates many existing diseases and conditions, but it may also result in the development of new health challenges,” she explained.

The WHO had previously expressed concern about the indirect effects of climate change on mental health. Specifically, many young people report feeling anxious about climate change because of the threat of irreversible ecological damage and a potentially uninhabitable physical environment.

Climate change and mental health research should be prioritized in order to understand the scope, complexity, and trajectory of climate-related mental disorders, thereby informing prevention, treatment, and management. This will help policymakers strengthen the mental health infrastructure for long-term development, contributing to Vision 2030.