Health Journeys

The effect of environmental changes on mental health

During recent years, the world's population has witnessed the simultaneous emergence of a number of challenges. A set of social events that has made it necessary to give space and voice to some specific issues even more evident. At the top of the list is mental health: a concept that pertains to individual and collective well-being, subject to a multitude of interpretations and meanings.

Psychological well-being: an ongoing project

Mental health is a dynamic state of inner balance, enabling individuals to use their abilities in harmony with the universal values of society.

This is how the Committee on Ethical Issues of the European Psychiatric Association defines a topic that is attracting increasing interest. Enjoying good mental health means predisposing oneself to seek a balance between all the physical and cognitive resources one has and the external environment. It is for all intents and purposes a process, and as such it experiences different moments and developments.

Mental health can change over time

Factors affecting the quality of mental health include both individual characteristics such as biological influences, lifestyles and self-awareness, as well as social, cultural, economic, political and environmental determinants. Indeed, there is growing evidence of the need to identify, implement, and promote strategies for prevention, treatment, and recovery using a holistic, cross-cutting, multidisciplinary approach. A vision that takes into account people's exposure to global challenges and social stratification.

In this regard, WHO - World Health Organization, has recently updated the World Mental Health Plan 2013-2030. The document is developed starting from four main goals:

  1. Achieving more effective leadership and governance
  2. Being able to offer comprehensive, integrated mental health and social services that are responsive to community needs
  3. Putting in place strategies for promotion and prevention
  4. Strengthen information systems by gathering more and more scientific evidence and implementing research.

The WHO program effectively involves and concerns civil society, international and intergovernmental development bodies, and academic and research institutions. A tool in a series of interventions and programs to address mental health. A beacon on a winding path that is also recognized as essential in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined back in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly.

The psychological implication of major global events

In recent years, the world's population has had to deal with the emergence of health, geopolitical and social events that have caused significant humanitarian crises and weakened the economy. All this has also resulted in an increase in mental disorders.

This is also demonstrated by the latest report Headway A new roadmap in Mental Health, presented by The European House - Ambrosetti, an Italian Think Tank, and Angelini Pharma, a pharmaceutical company part of Angelini Industries, in September 2022.

Headway an initiative born in 2017 with the aim of creating a multidisciplinary platform for strategic reflection, analysis, dialogue and comparison between different European experiences in the management of individuals with mental health disorders. The paper published last September looks at the topic for the first time by examining the impact that factors such as climate change, conflict and migration have on psychological well-being.

These are three dimensions of research that have been almost unexplored until now, but can no longer be ignored.

In particular, the report emphasizes the burden of the climate emergency that acts differently among individuals, with some being found to be much more at risk than others. This is the so-called "vulnerable group," which includes people already living in physical, economic or social hardship. Indeed, the Headway report shows the close connection between psychological difficulties and precarious housing conditions as a result of poverty, conflict or natural phenomena.

Ecosystem defense is closely related to mental health defense

The impact of climate change on mental health, therefore, acts on communities and its rules, but also on the individual. Climate migrations have altered pre-existing balances and led individuals to develop a range of psychopathological forms that can be summarized by the expression eco-anxiety. A sentiment that defines people's unease and fear of the possibility of extreme environmental changes related to, for example, global warming and pollution.

The Headway report monitors health, welfare, education and environmental policy planning with regard to mental health. Providing a detailed study of the social dynamics affecting more than 27 European countries with respect to the issue, it serves as a compass to enable governments to make the decisions necessary to meet the challenges of the present and the future.

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