Psychiatric Preparation for Climate Instability

September 18, 2014
H. Steven Moffic, MD

Have you heard of Psychiatrists for Environmental Action and Knowledge (PEAK)? There are ways for us to help treat climate instability and global overheating!

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE NEWS

As unusual, wildfires burn in drought-stricken, over-heated California, while remnants of hurricane Odile bring flash-flooding to the Southwest. New York City is preparing for the largest Climate March in history this Sunday. Although it is unclear how involved mental healthcare professionals will be in the march itself, psychiatrists - though not psychologists - have been conspicuously absent from the climate concerns debates.

Yet, psychiatric knowledge is highly relevant to climate concerns on so many levels. For example, we know about our natural, hard-wired, fight-or-flight tendency to mainly pay attention to current problems, but too often react with a sort of hug-and-shrug to future problems. Freud posited the intrapsychic coping mechanism of denial to ignore problems we didn't want to think about.

Psychiatrists can understand and appreciate the psychiatric reactions to the climate changes already occurring. A new grief syndrome--solastalgia--has been coined to describe the sadness of change in one's environment in Australia.

We know about the PTSD that can result from climate disasters and the ensuing climate refugees.

Yes, we psychiatrists have more than enough day to day challenges in our fight to help patients. However, our own ethical code includes a principle to be involved in societal problems that have psychiatric implications. Time may be overdue for psychiatrists to come out of our offices from time to time, and into the climate storms.

Some of us have found a new group, Psychiatrists for Environmental Action and Knowledge (PEAK). There are ways for us to help treat climate instability and global overheating.

Please join us?