Social Determinants of Mental Health:
Ultimate Determinant of Climate Change Impacts

— Robin Cooper, MD

Prepared by Group for Advancement of Psychiatry

Prepared by Group for Advancement of Psychiatry

People’s health status and the community environments in which they live are among the most important factors in determining the ability to survive and thrive in the face of climate change. 

Prominent inequalities in the distribution of opportunity are the underpinning of the diverse social determinants of poor health and mental health outcomes. Factors such as race, poverty, substandard housing, unemployment and underemployment, food scarcity, limited ability to influence circumstances of one’s lives or have influence on power, unequal access to quality health care and mental health care are all components of the fundamental underlying causes of poor health outcomes and risks of poor mental health and mental illness. These are considered the co- variables, multipliers that amply health consequence. 

Climate change impacts reinforce and amplify current socio-economic disparities, leaving low income, minority and politically marginalized groups with even fewer economic resources and greater environmental and health burdens.

These groups already suffer most from food and water scarcity, extreme weather impacts, excessive heat and physical and mental stresses. (McCarhty, et al, 2001)  

Since the mentally ill and substance abusers are plagued with disproportionately higher rates of all of negative social factors, these groups are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and must be considered in planning for public mental health interventions.