We take this worrisome opportunity to look back at how psychiatry has engaged climate concerns over the last decade and what our priorities might be going forward.
Editor’s note: In his inaugural blog, Why Psychiatrists Should Go Green, Dr Moffic became the very first Psychiatric Times contributor who addressed climate change and its association with mental health.
It was back about a decade ago when I was asked to start writing blogs for Psychiatric Times. For my first one, I chose “Why Psychiatrists Should Go Green.” I wondered whether the subject would be acceptable to a psychiatric publication. It was, thankfully. Why did I pick that topic at that time? I had an epiphany at the grocery store after my third grandchild was born. Getting a few things for her, the clerk asked: paper or plastic? I froze. What was the right answer? I finally said I don’t need a bag, grabbed the few groceries, and found out the general answer was to bring your own if you were concerned about the climate and the environment.
I wondered, then, did psychiatry have anything to contribute to this issue? After inquiring, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) did not seem interested; the response I got for many years was that we have enough acute problems and to just work on this as a citizen. I could not find many other colleagues that were interested either.
My research into the subject has suggested otherwise, especially because our area of expertise is irrefutably relevant. Why was there so much psychological denial of this problem? After all, heat waves are associated with more alcohol use; rising summer temperatures increase aggressive and violent behavior; and the world was beginning to see “climate refugees.”
That first blog was posted January 7, 2010. I was going to wait until about January 7, 2020 to write a decade long summary of how we’ve done as a profession since—that is, until it dawned on me that January might be a bad time to write about global warming in 2010 and would be in 2020 because, at least in the US, that is a time of increasing cold, not warmth. That time of year makes it even easier for the naysayers to deny the problem.
Recently, most of the country experienced heat alerts. In my neck of the woods, Chicago and Milwaukee had a heat index of up to 115 degrees. However, even TV weatherman Al Roker is not saying that the extreme heat relates to global warming. Some of the usual physical and mental health risks will inevitably increase: medication that causes more dehydration; anxiety about the climate; and societal conflict about what to do.
More than ever, it is clear that it was increasingly risky for me to wait, even for six months. As carbon (and methane) collects in the atmosphere, feedback loops reduce the ability of our atmosphere to pull back from climate change. We take this worrisome opportunity to look back at how psychiatry has engaged climate concerns over the last decade and what our priorities might be going forward.
I continued to write intermittent climate-related articles for Psychiatric Times. Some of the topics covered over the years:
• global warming may relate to the rising epidemic of burnout in physicians (See: What Do Climate Change and Physician Burnout Have in Common?)
• disaster psychiatry should include slowly developing disasters, not just traditional "acute" disasters
• how to make climate change a “sexier” topic (See: Going Green is Sexy)
• wear green for the subliminal message of environmental concern. I have worn a Jolly Green Giant (of Psychiatry) outfit for presentations on the subject as well as costume parties (where I won a first prize!) (See: Why Psychiatrists Should Go Green)
• climate is an ethical priority for us because of the physical and mental health risks to our society (See: Eco-Psychiatry: Why We Need to Keep the Environment in Mind)