When the climate changes, so do our minds

By Team Analysis

India is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change. Extreme weather events like floods, droughts, and heat waves are on the rise. It affects people not just physically but also mentally.

Studies conducted after disasters, like the Andaman & Nicobar Islands Tsunami and Odisha cyclone, prove this. Among surviving adolescents, PTSD rates reached 10.8% after the Tsunami and 26.9% after the cyclone. 

While, generalized anxiety disorders (GADs) affected 12% of school-going adolescents in Odisha, much higher than the 2016 national rate of 1.3% for GADs in adults. This underscores the serious impact of climate change on India’s youth.

Let’s dive deeper into this and look at the climate changes that have severely affected the Indian minds in today’s times.

Heat stress

India has seen a surge in severe heat waves in recent years. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the number of heat wave days increased by 2.5 days from 1961 to 2021, with an average temperature rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius.

In 2022, India recorded its hottest March on record, hitting 49°C, leading to numerous fatalities. Heat stress also takes a toll on mental health, causing:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • PTSD
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Sleep problems

According to a report published in Down To Earth, bipolar relapses increase by 30-40% during hotter months, hinting that people with pre-existing mental health conditions remain vulnerable to heat stress.

Natural disasters

Natural disasters like floods, droughts, and cyclones have also been found to have a significant impact on mental health in India. 

For instance, Kerala’s 2018 flood is an example of how natural disasters affect mental health. Many experienced anxiety, depression, and PTSD. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences revealed that 40% of flood-affected people had PTSD symptoms.

However, the impacts of natural disasters vary depending on the severity, the individual’s resilience, and the support they receive. Some common problems associated with natural disasters include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Suicide

Air pollution

Air pollution, a hazardous climate factor, has a dual impact on people, affecting both physical and mental well-being. 

Research reveals that individuals residing in areas with elevated air pollution levels are likely to report feelings of sadness, low mood, and depression. They also experience cognitive difficulties and a sense of helplessness in managing their lives.

The same research also identified four factors that mediate the mental health effects of air pollution:

  1. Overall physical health
  2. Respiratory conditions
  3. Changes in physical activity
  4. Current employment status. 

This indicates that air pollution can harm mental health through both direct and indirect pathways.

Moreover, air pollution has been associated with:

  • Directly affecting the brain.
  • Triggering inflammation.
  • Aggravating existing mental health issues.
  • Diminishing overall quality of life.


India’s vulnerability to climate change is evident through the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, which pose a huge mental health risk. 

Rising heat stress, natural disasters, and environmental pollution are major contributors to mental health problems in India, leading to increased anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Climate change poses a significant threat to mental well-being in India, necessitating urgent attention and support.

The Analysis (TA) is a research and communication group working on law and public policy issues in India. Feel free to share your submissions with us at contact@theanalysis.org.in

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