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Activist Says Climate Change Affects Bodies, Brains, Too

  • Deborah Block

Lise Van Susteren, Psychiatrist and Environmental Activist at VOA.

Lise Van Susteren, Psychiatrist and Environmental Activist at VOA.

Pope Francis has said a “revolution” is needed to combat climate change. While the pope is in Washington, addressing the U.S. Congress on September 24, a "Moral Action for Climate Justice" rally will take place on the National Mall to address the climate crisis.

One of the organizers, Washington psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren, said climate change affects not only the planet and our bodies but also our brains, causing a host of psychological problems.

People who don’t believe in climate change are denying what is “profoundly disturbing to them,” she said.

Van Susteren co-authored a study on the psychological impact of climate change. She told VOA that in the face of extreme weather, natural disasters and rising temperatures, she foresaw “increasing anxiety, fear and depression,” even “widespread outbreaks of violence” as resources like food become scarcer.

She saw global warming leading to “an uptick” in domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse, adding that higher temperatures would also set in motion “more crime and suicides.”

Van Susteren said that counselors and first responders “are not even close” to being able to handle the post-traumatic stress from people “losing their homes from flooding or from being burned down and farms being wiped out from tornadoes.”

And if that isn’t enough, she said, “there are also fears about future disasters,” such as hurricanes and wildfires. Describing this as “pre-traumatic stress,” she said “that vision of the future is already eating away at them. On some level, all of us are now struggling with pre-traumatic stress disorder,” including scientists who may see a future that looks bleak and suppress their grim predictions from the public.

She said medical professionals “should be on the front lines, warning the rest of the world that action needs to be taken.”

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