A landmark study into the mental health toll of compounding and worsening climate change has uncovered widespread distress as Australians grapple with more destructive and deadly disasters and rising insurance premiums.
The Climate Council’s Climate Trauma: the growing toll of climate change on the mental health of Australians, report found more than 80% of Australians have experienced a disaster in the past five years. Of those, half said they’d experienced a mental health issue as a result.
The study of 2,508 people included direct testimony from Lismore and Northern New South Wales residents and hundreds of people who’d experienced disasters from across the country.
People living in rural and regional areas were significantly more likely to have been affected by flooding at least once since 2019 (61% versus 38% in cities), and bushfires (49% versus 36%).
They had found it harder to access mental health support and were more likely to say state emergency services and state governments were poorly equipped to deal with climate disasters.
Dr Simon Bradshaw, a report author and Research Director at the Climate Council, said:
“Decades of scientific research have taught us a lot about the physical risks of climate change, but far less attention has been paid to the impact of climate change on our mental health.
“Hundreds of courageous Australians have contributed their stories and insights to this landmark study. The results highlight the devastating toll that climate change is having on the mental health of our communities, and uncover many practical steps we should be taking. They show that stronger action on climate change is fundamental to protecting the mental wellbeing of Australians.”
Rising insurance premiums were also examined as part of the study. It found increasing costs are making it harder for Australians to protect themselves against worsening extreme weather disasters.
Almost one in 10 (8%) of the nearly 500 Australians surveyed who experienced a disaster had their home destroyed or deemed their uninhabitable. One in five (21%) reported having no insurance.
Of those who did have insurance, nearly two-thirds (64%) said their premiums had increased recently, with most attributing the rise to an increase in the impact of recent extreme weather events. Worryingly, one in 20 (6%) had cancelled their insurance coverage because it was no longer affordable.
Cr Elly Bird, Managing Director of Resilient Lismore, said the Northern Rivers community was experiencing ‘a collective trauma’. She said parents, children and people still displaced or grappling with being unable to afford insurance or those who’ve had their claims refused were particularly affected.
“People simply cannot navigate day to day. We’re exhausted. And while we continue to rebuild and may well achieve some type of ‘normal’, it is abundantly clear that the mental health repercussions will be with us for a very long time.
“As a society we need to have serious conversations about the sting in the tail of climate disasters: about the mental health fall out – not just here in Lismore – but all around the country.”
The Climate Council is calling for:
- Reform of the mental health system to prepare for and cope with escalating extreme weather disasters, including accessible, adequate and appropriate mental health services for rural and regional Australia, emergency services workers and climate-specific training for mental health professionals.
- A single national framework and strategy that ensures greater vision, coherence and coordination for climate change adaptation in Australia.
- Improved hazard maps and greatly increased investment in resilience.
- Support for disaster affected communities to ‘build back better’.
- The establishment of an independent insurance price monitor and a review of the impact of climate change on the provision of insurance.
Access the report and first-person testimonies from the survey here.
Participants who took the survey are available for an interview.
Contact the Climate Council’s Communications Director Jane Gardner on 0438 130 905 or email email@example.com
For support please contact Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36 or explore the Phoenix Australia’s Disaster Mental Health Hub online with some excellent resources or check in with your GP or local mental health services.
About the research:
This study was conducted in two parts: the first part was a scientific national poll conducted by YouGov from 2-16 December 2022 with a representative national sample of 2,032 Australians. The second part, which ran in parallel and is referred to in this report as the “community survey”, sought to gain some deeper insights from those in disaster-affected communities. This was conducted via an online survey.