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Nearly 40 countries across Oceania, the Pacific Islands, and parts of continental Asia experience more intense and more frequent climate change events than the rest of the globe. Katerina Vafeiadou, a researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London, spoke to Harvard Public Health about the research review her team conducted on the mental health impact of these events.

Why study this topic?

My team received a request from WHO to investigate mental health challenges specific to its Western Pacific Region and how people in the region cope with the climate crisis. The aim was to offer insights that could inform future research and policy.

What did you find?

Broadly, the region is seeing an increase in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and a decline in mental well-being, which means reporting less life satisfaction and more negative emotions like sadness and anxiety.

However, mental health impacts vary according to location because each culture in the region has its own challenges and support systems. This led us to a key finding: Strong communities are vital to mitigating mental health challenges.

What would you like to see happen based on the study’s results?

Across the region, we found that stigma often prevents people from seeking necessary support. So, in terms of policy recommendations, spreading awareness of each area’s specific mental health challenges and offering culturally-appropriate services is crucial.

In terms of research, our review looked at studies from six areas in the region: Australia, China, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, South Korea, and Vietnam. However, there are many more areas in the region for which we couldn’t find any review articles, so there is a lot of research that still needs to be done.

—Jo Zhou

(Study in Heliyon, November 2023)

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