Historically, British people have always ignored the effects of our poor, wet weather. The heavy rain has always been there, so most carry on regardless. However, as the world shifts towards global climate change, water-related problems are arguably the most imminent and most personal. As Britain's temperature rises and weather patterns become more extreme, will our health be compromised by a lack of clean water and diseases spread by polluted floodwater?
And what of our mental health? Will our stoic disregard for the weather turn to mental depression or worse?
Health professionals, until now noticeable only by their absence in the climate change debate, will become increasingly important in helping us to understand and adapt to problems and in promoting behavioural changes that might avert the greatest threats.
People's mental health and related behaviour are positively or negatively influenced by both external social and climate factors. According to the World Health Organisation, mental health problems are set to increase significantly by the year 2020, and will be the second greatest cause of illness after heart disease by 2050 if present trends continue.
If the predicted change in global climate is rapid, then this will undoubtedly increase mental health issues. If we think of climate-related natural hazards, then property losses and displacement from residences will undoubtedly cause significant psychological stress, with long-lasting effects on anxiety levels and depression. It is known that social disruptions resulting from family and community dislocations due to extreme weather events pose a special stress for children and those of lower socio-economic status.
In the US, it is known that in the period following Hurricane Katrina, there are many who believe that the hurricane is still there and threatening them.
Health experts say that survivors of that storm are dying from the effects of both psychological and physical stress. And in the aftermath, people are not only dying from the dust and mould in housing, but are mentally disturbed by fear of crime and consequent financial problems. Many old people have given up, and others have even committed suicide as a direct result of the storm. Social workers there recorded a tripling of people with mental health problems, particularly depression, suicide, anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, abuse of drugs and alcohol, plus a range of physical problems.
We have long known that human mental health is a state of being that is both affected by and affects the world in which we live. It is clear that there is a definite link between mental health (what we think, feel, believe and ultimately do) and climate change. This fact must be discussed further if we are to achieve positive change. The future of climate change with regard to human mental health depends on man seeing himself as part of the whole planetary system - not in some way superior to it. Our future well-being - indeed survival - depends on it.
Whatever the reasons for climate change - whether man-made or as part of a natural planetary shift - there is no doubt that man will suffer mental health issues as a direct result of it.
It's about time, therefore, that medical professionals joined environmentalists in discussing global climate change as a matter of urgency.