A Psychiatric SOS: Imaginable Tornadoes, Comets, and Climate Instability


Thanks to climate change, weather disasters are neither unimaginable nor unbelievable.


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Whether at a movie or living in several mid Southern states, last Friday was not a day to look up to the sky. If anybody did so, especially in Kentucky, at a particular time at night, they could have seen an unprecedented killer tornado, one of many that may be a record for December. The personal and property damage was devastating.

Certainly, disaster psychiatrists will help with the mental health aftermath needs, and they will be substantial, both for those who are still alive and immediately affected, as well as the public and patients shocked by the ripples of the trauma. Is this another dramatic example of the contribution of climate instability to our weather, which still calls for prevention rather than treatment?

Earlier in the day Friday, in a terrible synchronicity or foreshadowing, the new movie Don’t Look Up was released in select theaters. With humor and satire, it uses the metaphor of a comet coming to strike the earth, suggesting the absurdity of denying our evolving environmental dangers.

Friday seems to provide an exclamation point to the need for new approaches to stop the progression of global warming. Is the humor of Don’t Look Up one of them, or will that just be a pleasant diversion from reality?

Given that the current climate change is, in contrast to a comet, human behavior driven, what more should we in psychiatry say and do now? For starters, how about:

1. Research

Conducting pre- and postquestionnaires about whether seeing Don’t Look Up changes attitudes. Moreover, what—if anything—might change any continuing undue narcissism and sociopathic-like behavior of the responsible energy corporations?

2. Language

Words matter. Calling out more misleading terms even with the best intentions, as in President Biden calling the tornado unimaginable, as in “an unimaginable tragedy,” and though meteorologists saved lives, a meteorology professor calling the weather “unbelievable.” Anyone concerned with climate instability over the years would not conclude that this weather was unimaginable nor unbelievable, but rather predictable. We have to imagine these outcomes and believe that they can still be muted.

3. Protest

Consider something more dramatic in response, like a professional protest march or prominent press releases that will highlight the dangerous symptoms, causes, and treatments from our perspective. If climate change, which I view as a social psychopathology, was a patient, it would need a long-term hospitalization.

This is a psychiatric SOS! Please use your imagination to share other suggestions, particularly out-of-the-box ones.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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