Can Climate Change Affect Psychological Health?

A large number of people believes that mental health equates only to problems that are associated with mental health. But the truth is that a thing like a change in climate can affect psychological health along with physical health.

When one thinks about climate change, changes in mental health is the last thing that comes to mind. Many people are affected by the change of season, physically as well as psychologically.

Psychological health is the mental health of an individual. It includes the functioning of the cognitive system and evidence suggests that environmental conditions can have a significant impact on cognitive health. Extreme environmental changes such as heat or cold can alter cognitive function due to a variety of psychological and biological processes.

Temperature change and cognitive functions

Cognitive function is defined as a performance in tasks that require conscious mental effort and includes memory, attention, and concentration.

HEAT STRESS – Heat stress is considered to be a hazard that attributes to compromised cognitive function. Changes in behavior have been observed in people during high temperature. Evidence suggests that heat stress related cognitive decline is mediated by a decrease in thermal comfort and changes in the regional brain blood flow.

COLD STRESS – Excessive exposure to cold conditions can alter the concentration of central catecholamines. Any alterations in the level of central catecholamines can have a detrimental effect on cognition. Various brain regions can be affected by this change in the level of central catecholamines such as prefrontal cortex.  

What is a seasonal affective disorder?

Evidence suggests that changes in climate could lead to the development of one of the common and serious psychological condition known as depression. In medical terms, this form of depression is known as seasonal affective disorder. A seasonal affective disorder is a type of recurrent major depression with a seasonal pattern.

Depression is a mental disorder which affects millions of people across the world. It changes the way an individual function day to day and it is characterized by various symptoms such as sad mood, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, lack of concentration, fatigue, loss of energy, and low self esteem.

People having seasonal affective disorder involves a pattern which includes a seasonal pattern in which depression which begins and ends during a specific time each year. A seasonal affective disorder is common in the month of winter and it is primarily characterized by problems with mood and the feeling of lethargic. The primary cause of this psychological change is the combination of decreased serotonin and increased melatonin.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for balancing mood and people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder finds difficulty in regulating serotonin. In the month of winter, the level of SERT is found to be high than in summer. SERT is a protein that assists with serotonin transport. SERT transports serotonin from the synaptic cell to the presynaptic neuron. Therefore, an increase in the level of SERT leads to a decrease in serotonin, which results in the development of depression. In the months of summer, sunlight helps to regulate the level of SERT which in turn helps to maintain a positive mood.

Also Read: Some of the things that A mentally strong people do when in trouble

Another hormone that plays a role in balancing mood and sleep, and whose production is affected by a change in climate is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland that responds to darkness and causes sleepiness. During winter days, the production of melatonin increases as winter days become darker. As a result, it makes people suffering from seasonal affective disorder sleepy and lethargic.

Also, an increase in the production of melatonin and a decrease in serotonin cause changes in circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are synchronized to respond to the rhythmic light dark changes that occur daily. Changes in circadian rhythms indicate a seasonal change in day length has been found to be timed differently, which makes it difficult from an individual to adjust.

Can Vitamin D be linked with change in psychological health and change in climate?

Yes! There is a link between climate change and psychological health.

Multiple studies have been conducted to investigate the role of psychological health with changing the season and it was observed that there are various factors that could contribute towards this correlation. One of the factors is changes in the intake of vitamin D with climate change.

Sunlight is considered to be the easiest source of vitamin D and in a winter season, there is a lack of sunlight. During winter season people tends to have a deficiency of vitamin D in the human body.

Many people think that vitamin D is just required to maintain bone health. But the reality is that vitamin D is responsible for various body functions. Various studies have detected an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Also, with cognitive performance. Low level of vitamin D in the body is linked with problems associated with mental health. Vitamin D is involved in numerous brain processes such as regulation of neurotrophic factors, neuroprotection, neuroplasticity, neuroimmunomodulation and development of the brain.

Most often, there is less outdoor exposure to sunlight on the skin in winter, as a result, the risk of having a low level of vitamin D is high. Vitamin D is known to play a role in the activity of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that balance mood. Thus, deficiency and insufficiency of vitamin D have been associated with the development of symptoms of depression.


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Jim Carson

Jim Carson is the writer for the mental health section of He is certified in clinical mental health counselling and has conducted cognitive behaviour therapy for war veterans struggling with PTSD. Professionally and personally, Jim is an astute observer of human behaviour that reflects well in his work.