May 30, 2024

Climate change is causing mental health crisis for workers, report claims

Climate change is driving a crisis in workers’ mental health, a new global report has claimed.

Extreme weather, climate change-induced disasters and exposure to excessive heat are all contributing to anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency.

“Workers may feel distress related to financial and workload problems and from loss of hope for the future of their community,” the ILO said in its latest report into threats facing workers.

“Numerous health conditions in workers have been linked to climate change, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses and mental health conditions, among many others.”

The report argued that climate change risks hurting the mental health of some workers by worsening their financial situations. Farmers and fishermen, for example, are more likely to suffer lower crop yields and falling fish numbers in some waters because of rising temperatures, putting their livelihoods under strain and causing anxiety and depression.

“Climate change will also affect seasonal and transient farm workers such as fruit pickers and sheep shearers, as increasingly stressful environmental conditions and unpredictable crop yields have major impacts on livelihoods,” the ILO said, noting that farmers already have far higher suicide rates than those in many other industries.

Water shortages are a key threat, the report said, while the increased use of pesticides also threatens farm workers’ physical health.

Others will suffer trauma as they are involved in natural disasters, the ILO said. They noted emergency services workers are more frequently facing the toughest conditions, rescuing and treating more people who have suffered through floods, fires and storms and so risking more PTSD.

“The repeated trauma and stress of multiple emergency events and the ongoing management of the injured, ill, and displaced may leave these workers physically and emotionally fatigued and unable to contribute as strongly during later events,” the ILO report said.

Even in more normal conditions without extreme storms, higher temperatures threaten to place workers under more stress, the ILO added.

“Increased temperatures could also be associated with increased cases of suicide and suicidal behaviour, hospital attendance or admission for mental illness, and poor community health and well-being,” the analysts warned.

The growth of mental health conditions is already causing problems for employers and undermining economic growth by keeping adults off work.

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