Global climate change and trauma : An International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Briefing Paper

As human beings, our physical and mental health cannot be separated from the environments in which we live. Climate change, if left unaddressed, is projected to have catastrophic consequences on the mental health of entire populations. The impacts of climate change on  traumatic stress and other aspects of mental health arise primarily from problems that are collectively, though not equally, experienced. These include insufficient political will and harmful policies, increased exposure to disasters, poverty, violence, the erosion of important places and landscapes, and harms to human physical health and the health of ecosystems, among others. This briefing paper describes the current state of knowledge in relation to climate change and trauma and highlights a number of gaps to encourage rapid development and collaboration on this topic across public health, policy, clinical, and research areas.


We describe how both acute and chronic (or gradual) climate change conditions can impact the frequency and severity of DSM-5 criterion A traumatic events which, in turn, can result in posttrauma psychopathology. We suggest that climate change contributes to traumatic stress and mental health burden through the accumulation of collectively but unequally experienced climate change induced stressors over the life course across social, economic, and environmental domains. We also describe a growing area of research focused on the impacts of  vicariously experienced stressors and anticipation of climate change-related stressors. We highlight a range of factors that may support and enhance mental health in the context of stressful climate change conditions, promote positive collective action, and contribute to  psychosocial adaptation, as well as the need for further work in this area. We specifically discuss theoretical implications of individual and collective action on post-traumatic growth and potential new areas of inquiry on post traumatic growth in the context of climate change. We include a range of relevant current and future public health, policy, clinical, and research initiatives, and make recommendations in each of these areas. 

Effective and feasible methods for mitigating the impacts of climate change already exist and, if promptly and appropriately implemented, have the potential of preventing trauma for generations. We hope this briefing paper will serve to highlight currently available evidence and the evidence and action needed in order to prioritize, promote, and protect the mental health and well-being of people, communities, and societies in the face of climate change.


Dr. Diane Elmore Borbon, Dr. Judith Bass, Dr. Elana Newman, and Dr. Angela Nickerson | 2021
32 pagina's | Chicago : International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
Climate change, Mental health, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (DSM-5), PTSD (en)