Introduction

The question of how to tackle the consequences of a changing climate is set to become one of the most significant issues of the coming years as many Nigerians come to terms with the complexities associated with the impacts.

Mental health refers to emotional, psychological and social well-being. Studies in various parts of the world have shown linkages between climate change and mental health, and a term ‘solastalgia’ was coined by Albrecht and colleagues, it describes “environmentally-induced distress and negative emotions caused by destruction or diminishing of place of solace, communities and landscapes”(1,2). Major mental health impacts include increases in the incidence of stress, anxiety, depression, suicide ideation as well as increases in more severe reactions like pre-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (3). Research indicates that women, children, old people and other marginalized groups are especially vulnerable to the mental health impacts of climate change (4,5,6).

CLIMATE CHANGE AND MENTAL HEALTH: LESSONS FOR NIGERIA

Climate Change and Mental Health in Nigeria   

Presently, several researches (7,8,9) carried out in Nigeria have shown that climate change causes death, affects public health and food security, causes displacement of communities, damage to properties, breakdown of infrastructure, and puts stress on water supply and quality. Individuals and NGOs constantly appeal to policy-makers to allocate funds for building resilience and adapting to climate change; one aspect that is yet to get attention from the media, NGOs, researchers, and government is the way that climate has impacted on mental health in the country.

According to the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) projections (2007), Nigeria is expected to be characterized by high temperatures, more intense and extreme weather events and sea level rise (10). There has been an increase in the rate and intensity of extreme weather events in Nigeria and the effects already been felt include heatwaves across the country, rising sea levels and flooding in various parts of Nigeria’s coastal areas, desert encroachment and drying up of rivers in the north, gully erosion in the south east and so on; causing loss of life and properties, reduced agricultural productivity, public health issues, forced migration and the associated violence, loss of community identity and so on.

In 2018, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported that over 1.9 million Nigerians were affected by severe flooding that ravaged 103 Local Government Areas across 10 states in the country. Prior to that, the agency had reported that the flood of 2012 was the worst in over 40 years with 30 out of Nigeria’s 36 states affected, 1.3 million Nigerians displaced, and resulting in 431 deaths. In 2012, I was in Bayelsa State, and I had the opportunity of visiting one of the affected communities where I was told that the flood caused corpses in the cemetery in that vicinity to be exhumed. I witnessed first-hand the depression, anxiety, shock, despair, that came along with memories of a flood that also caused damage to properties and farmlands, loss of livelihood, deterioration of health conditions and so on. Some people said they couldn’t erase the memory of the flood bringing human remains and other waste into their homes and were so devastated that they had to move out of the areas. The level of stress that it caused was high and the tension in that community was palpable as at that time.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND MENTAL HEALTH: LESSONS FOR NIGERIA

The Federal Ministry of Health in 2018 stated that about 60 million Nigerians have mental illness; while there are no statistics on the prevalence of mental stress caused by climate change, given the frequency and intensity of climate change impacts, it will be safe to say that there are millions of Nigerians with mental illnesses due to poor ability to cope after an environmental disaster. Based on this, a future in which many people live with mental health problems, as a result of climate change is easy to imagine if nothing is done now.

Some communities in Nigeria are vulnerable to the psychological effects of climate change because of factors such as no/vague information on the frequency and intensity of the impacts, disease epidemics, poor nutrition, economic inequality, violence, weak infrastructures, and socioeconomic and demographic variables such as low average education levels, and large numbers of children and old people. In 2018, a survey carried out in Kaduna by UN Environment and Federal University of Technology, Minna, established that 84.1% of the participants had experienced at least one major environmental hazard; and a majority, 74.7% had never been informed on preparedness. How will such poorly-informed people cope psychologically during and post-disaster?

Recommendations   

Although there are policies aimed at addressing mental health in Nigeria, there is no in-depth information on mental health service. World Health Organization estimates that only about 3% of the Nigerian government’s budget on health goes to mental health despite reports that mental illness is on the rise across the country. Also, the bill for establishment of Mental Health Act which was introduced in 2003 is yet to be passed into law by the senate as at 2019, passing the bill into law will ensure that information on and access to mental healthcare and service is available nationwide. As a recommendation, the bill should be amended to include supporting and promoting awareness on the relationship between climate change and mental health, and protect climate change-induced mental health victims.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND MENTAL HEALTH: LESSONS FOR NIGERIA

Some NGOs such as Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative have been working really hard to bring the mental health topic to the fore and their efforts are commendable, however the campaigns need to be broadened so as to help people understand how the changing climate impacts on well-being. This awareness will also increase people's willingness to take action in response to climate change. Nigerians need to learn how to bolster public engagement and build positive understanding around climate change and mental health, and this is a task that government through her MDAs (Federal Ministry of Environment, Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Nigerian Meteorological Agency, National Orientation Agency, Nigerian Emergency Management Agency, and others), media, NGOs and CSOs, public health officials, faith-based organizations and other members of the society have to take on.

Adequate mental health care in Nigeria is urgently needed as the realities of climate change become more obvious especially for the most marginalized groups. There also exists a huge need for more empirical research to enable efficient interventions.   REFERENCES 1. Albrecht G. (2011). Chronic Environmental Change: Emerging ‘Psychoterratic’ Syndromes. In: Climate Change and Human Well-being. New York: Springer; p. 43–56.  2. Albrecht G., Sartore G., Connor L., Higginbotham0 N., Freeman S., Kelly B., Pollard

One of the ways that the linkage between climate change and mental health can be established for interventions is to gather statistics and evidence about the magnitude and range of climate change impacts on mental health. The information can be obtained from victims of heatwaves, floods, rainstorms, droughts, etc., and effectively translated into needed actions to build resilience according to the needs of the various localities and nationally. Thereafter, adaptation at all levels (from local to national) from all sectors and individuals in terms of preparing for and responding to extreme weather events should become a priority. Policy frameworks for climate change mitigation should also be formulated in a coordinated and collaborative manner.

A practical way to address mental health issues in a changing climate is to preserve and conserve the environment as continuing research (11,12,13) supports that nature positively influences mental health and can mitigate stress for children, women, the elderly and other vulnerable groups. Furthermore, studies have suggested that nature provides people with a sense of stewardship and personal investment that can help them overcome feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression, among others.

Adequate mental health care in Nigeria is urgently needed as the realities of climate change become more obvious especially for the most marginalized groups. There also exists a huge need for more empirical research to enable efficient interventions.

REFERENCES

1. Albrecht G. (2011). Chronic Environmental Change: Emerging ‘Psychoterratic’ Syndromes. In: Climate Change and Human Well-being. New York: Springer; p. 43–56.

2. Albrecht G., Sartore G., Connor L., Higginbotham0 N., Freeman S., Kelly B., Pollard G. (2007). Solastalgia: The Distress Caused by Environmental Change. Australasian Psychiatry, 15: 95–98.

3. Akpodiogaga P. & Odjugo O. (2010). General Overview of Climate Change Impacts in Nigeria. J Hum Ecol, 29 (1) 47-55.

4. Albrecht G. (2011). Chronic Environmental Change: Emerging ‘Psychoterratic’ Syndromes. In: Climate Change and Human Well-being. New York: Springer; p. 43–56.

5. Albrecht G., Sartore G., Connor L., Higginbotham0 N., Freeman S., Kelly B., Pollard G. (2007). Solastalgia: The Distress Caused by Environmental Change. Australasian Psychiatry, 15: 95–98

6. Clayton S., Manning C. M., & Hodge C. (2014). Beyond Storms & Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica.

7. Obradovich et al., (2018). Empirical Evidence of Mental Health Risks Posed by Climate Change. PNAS, 115 (43): 10953–10958.

8. La Greca A. M., Silverman W. K., Lai B., Jaccard J. (2010). Hurricane-Related Exposure Experiences and Stressors, Other Life Events, and Social Support: Concurrent and Prospective Impact on Children’s Persistent Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms. J Consulting Clin Psychol, 78: 794–805.

9. Polain J. D., Berry H. L., Hoskin J. (2011). Rapid Changes, Climate Adversity, and the Next ‘Big Dry’: Older Farmers’ Mental Health. Aust J of Rural Health, 19: 239–243.

10. IPCC, “Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report”. FAR of IPCC. Geneva, Switzerland. pp.104, 2007.

11. Ack L., Maheswaran R., (2011). The Health Benefits of Urban Green Spaces: A Review of the Evidence. J Public Health, 33: 212–222.

12. Annerstedt M., Wahrborg P. (2011). Nature-Assisted Therapy: Systematic Review of Controlled and Observational Studies. Scand J Public Health, 39: 371–388.

13. Gascon M., Triguero-Mas M.,Martinez D., et al. (2015). Mental Health Benefits of Long-Term Exposure to Residential Green and Blue Spaces: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 12: 4354 – 4379.

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