The op-ed from Aug. 5, “Climate change linked to suicides – how ludicrous,” missed the mark. The Stanford study does not make the case that a few degrees in temperature change is the direct cause of suicide, as the op-ed author implies. The study’s authors instead stress that rising temperature and climate change should not be viewed as direct motivations for suicide, but that the changes in climate and temperature may “increase the risk of suicide by affecting the likelihood that an individual situation leads to an attempt at self-harm.”
The study points out the very real impacts of a changing climate such as worsening asthma and allergies, heat-related stress, illness and injury related to storms, floods and droughts, as well as foodborne, waterborne, and vector-borne diseases. These significant challenges created by climate change will certainly affect mental health.
Currently, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year, and suicide rates in America have risen dramatically over the past 15 years. The author admits that a traumatic life event such as loss of a job or child can push even “reasonably sane people over the edge.” So why not a climate-related disaster that seriously disrupts your life? What happens when they then lose a home or their livelihood in a hurricane, or experience the death of their family members in a fire?
A new study published in the Nature Climate Change journal finds a strong correlation between warm weather and increased suicides.
There is general consensus among relevant medical associations that climate change will bring about mental health problems. The American Public Health Association reports that “up to 54 percent of adults and 45 percent of children suffer depression after a natural disaster” in its Climate Changes Mental Health one pager, and both the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association have reports that point out the mental health risks of climate change, respectively, on Mental Health and Our Changing Climate, and the Mental Health and Climate Change.
The Enquirer reported recently about the increases in temperatures over the past 30 years across Ohio and Kentucky, and the EPA has identified that beyond extreme heat, Ohio will also see increased precipitation, flooding, impacts to the Great Lakes and agriculture, as well as increases in air pollution.
It is not ludicrous to address the serious threat climate change poses to the health of all Ohioans when we have a narrow window of opportunity to act and solve the crisis.
Dr. William Hardie is a pediatric pulmonologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and a member of The American Thoracic Society. He is actively involved in both clinical care of children with respiratory disorders and has been a National Institute of Health funded research investigator for 15 years.
Dr. Dan Sullivan is a primary care internist at the Cleveland Clinic and a councilor-at-large for the Ohio State Medical Association.