My Polar Bear
Author: Elizabeth Haase, MD
Date: Sept 21st, 2018
Sometimes, there is an image that captures everything you feel about a problem: A baby seal being clubbed, a polar bear on an iceberg. For me, the image of two women, each with severe mental illness, coming forward voluntarily for help, then committed, possibly handcuffed, and abandoned to drown on a flooded street, is my polar bear.
Hurricane Florence will impose prolonged psychic distress, financial and personal suffering for millions of Americans, not just these two mentally ill mothers. And yes, the details of how hard the sheriffs tried to get them out matter. But why were they there, on that flooded street, underwater?
I have not yet read a story that so clearly highlights how for the mentally ill - more easily ignored and scapegoated when a society is stressed, less resilient, their mental states and medications lessening their ability to process the evolving dangers of a flood or negotiate a stressed social environment - climate change is the greatest health threat they will know.
We need to work to protect our patients against climate impacts and to decrease the global warming that is threatening us all. Right now, all together, no matter what it takes.