2021-Call for action on mental-health crisis

Call for urgent action on ‘burgeoning’ global mental-health crisis linked to climate change

Fri, 24 Sep 2021 09:16:00 BST
World Forum on Climate Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University
World Forum on Climate Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University

Climate experts called for urgent action on the “burgeoning” mental-health crisis sweeping the globe on the final day of the World Forum on Climate Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

Professor Tahseen Jafry, Conference Chair and Director of GCU’s Centre for Climate Justice, said: “We must take action to ensure that the conversation moves from infrastructure damage to looking at the social and human dimensions of this crisis.

“A mental-health crisis is burgeoning across the globe and yet we don’t talk about that crisis. It is playing out in terms of the suicide and death of many thousands of people but we don’t talk about this enough.

“From research that we are doing at the Centre, we know that women and girls are bearing the brunt of this mental-health crisis. There is no doubt in my mind that people are experiencing climate change and climate injustices around the world.

“We have to move away from looking at the physical destruction that is happening around us and really look at the impact it is having on people’s mental and physical health. It is so important. This is about healing and rebuilding lives and finding ways forward.”

The conference brought together some of the biggest players in the world stage of climate change such as Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General; Former Irish President and Chair of the Elders Dr Mary Robinson; Former Secretary General of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo; Princess Esméralda of Belgium, human rights’ campaigner and environmental activist; and Nigel Topping, UK Government Champion for UN climate talks.

Professor Jafry was deeply moved by one of the young women speakers, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, founder of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), who wept at the conference as she opened her heart about how women and girls are being killed just trying to access water and the mental-health impact that the climate crisis is having on them.

“This tragedy is about sexual exploitation, it is about rape, it is about being taken advantage of, particularly for women and girls who have to walk further and longer to try to get access to simple resources like water to help them live,” said Professor Jafry.

Keynote speaker Dr Mary Robinson insisted mental health was a “very real and increasing issue”.

She said: “We absolutely need to focus more on a people-centred climate justice approach and, within that, speak far more about the mental-health issues.

“I have listened to a lot of friends from small island states saying their mental health is falling apart because of the constant pressure of ‘will I have a future here?’, ‘what about my children?’, ‘are we going to have to move out of our home?’

“We spoke to women of the Global South and south of the United States, we asked each of them to talk about how they were coping. They opened up about how much they were having to think about their mental health. When you add to that those who have had to move to look for resources in drought or move because of the climate impacts and then being affected by sexual violence due to rape en route, that is even more tragic. We are hearing more stories along these lines.”

Environmental activist Hindou said: “Most of the time mental health is the part that is completely neglected, especially when we talk at an international level. When we talk about climate change, we talk about loss and damage after the disaster but not about the healing of the people mentally when they are experiencing the crisis from the flood to the drought, ending with food insecurity and running from your home, so mentally it is very hard.

“How do you explain to your children, who do not understand, and how you are going to reassure the young people to tell them that it’s going to be ok? There is no mechanism that can help to restore what is happening.”

Ashley Komangaapik Rose Cummings, member of the Canadian Prime Minister’s Youth Council and Indigenous rights activist for Inuit communities in Canada, insisted industry, government and leaders need to “walk the talk” to tackle the mental-health crisis linked to climate change and injustice.

“With the climate disaster that is unfolding right now, it is just another impending layer of stress for indigenous folks and people across the entire planet. We need to really walk that talk when it comes to mental health,” she added.

The three-day World Forum, organised by the Centre for Climate Justice, was hailed a success by Professor Jafry ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

Professor Jafry said this year’s World Forum “has led us to come together, network and exchange ideas across the globe”.

“I think we have achieved a lot and I feel optimistic that we will see change. We have shown what solidarity looks like for climate justice and the challenges before us is to get this conversation heard as far and wide as possible,” she added.

“Industry, governments, banks, politicians – those who are key players in the run up to COP26 have a moral duty and obligation to serve and support those on the frontline of the climate crisis.

“I want to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to everyone who has made this World Forum a success.”

To find out more about GCU and COP26 click on this link - www.gcu.ac.uk/cop26