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Climate change can affect people’s mental health

Mindfulness in nature may help ease depression. / CEC file photo

by Eduardo de la Garza

Anyone who’s suffering depression or thinking about doing personal harm to themselves should talk to someone immediately. You can call the Crisis Intervention of Houston at (832) 416-1177 or call or text 988 to reach the national lifeline. You are worth that call or text.

When you tell people you’re depressed, some people will say you need to find something inside you, that everyone’s suffering, or just think of something else. These are things you shouldn’t tell someone going through mental illness. If it were as easy as that, 20 percent of the U.S. population wouldn’t be diagnosed with mental illness.

Another bit of advice people receive is that they just need fresh air, to get outside and do something. But what if it’s the environment that’s causing anxiety and depression. Or rather, climate change. While seeing the climate change so drastically without being able to change it can affect many people — especially children, it’s the immediate effects that do the most harm. Houston’s been ravaged by hurricanes, floods, and deep freezes in the last 10 years that have left survivors with real feelings of posttraumatic stress disorder. A slight breeze or drizzle can trigger feelings of helplessness brought on from living though Hurricane Harvey.

The research article published in BMC Public Health “Using the 12-item short form health survey (SF-12) to assess self rated health of an engaged population impacted by hurricane Harvey, Houston, TX,” by Garett T. Sansom, Katie Kirsch, and Jennifer A. Horney concluded that “The City of Houston, with highly segregated, socially vulnerable populations at high risk from natural hazards, should consider ways to support community engagement around disaster preparedness, response, and recovery that may build community cohesion and improve post-disaster mental health.”

Perhaps it shows that beyond the immediate relief the Federal Emergency Management Agency can offer in terms of financial aid for rebuilding or necessary food or supplies, there should be long-term psychological help available for survivors.

A report from the American Psychiatric Foundation, “Air Pollution’s Impact on Mental Health,” states that “past research has associated air pollution with higher levels of stress, psychological distress, increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s and depression. Other research has linked short-term exposure to peaks in air pollution with an increased risk of death among people with serious mental illness.”

So yes, fresh air is good for you. But Houston is home to refineries that have polluted the air for decades. Made in partnership with Public Health Watch, Smells Like is a 16-minute documentary about Air Alliance Houston activist Juan Flores trying to clean up the air in Galena Park.

“Research suggests that mental health concerns in urban areas can be attributed to high levels of air pollution,” said Meng Li, decision & information sciences associate professor at the UH Bauer College of Business to Houston Public Media. “Air pollution can undermine people’s mental health, and this impact becomes stronger as the duration of exposure to air pollution increases.”

Climate change and air pollution’s effects on mental health are manmade. The environment isn’t out to get you. These are issues people need to work to improve on to provide everyone with clean air, clean water, and to try to reverse climate events. We should try to connect to nature, albeit in areas with cleaner air.

This is in no way meant as treatment advice for those suffering from depression, but Mindfulness, the practice of immersing oneself in the moment, outdoors, has been known to help. Group walks or walking tours, like those offered at Buffalo Bayou and listed in the CEC calendar can ease stress and improve one’s mental health.

But whatever you do, talk to someone. You are not alone and you are loved.