The sicker our planet becomes, the sicker our brains become.
It’s already scientifically proven that the depleted air quality in urban areas directly correlates to the increased rates of people diagnosed with cancer. What’s happened since the dawn of the 21st century in Beijing, China is the most disturbing example of this phenomenon.
If pollution is directly linked to cancer, then what makes us think that it does not cause disease in other organs, such as the human brain?
There are arguments that the rising rates of cancer result from better medical testing and detection. People had cancer before the 21st century, it’s just that it wasn’t diagnosed.
What about the rising rates of people being diagnosed with mental illness, a disease of the brain? According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) one in four adults will experience mental illness. This statistic is alarming and the consequences are serious. Our current healthcare system is ill equipped to prevent, diagnoses, treat, and support the recovery of mental illness in the general population. As it stands now, only the rich can afford the best mental health care. And even if you have money, there’s no guarantee of a cure for severe mental illness.
On September 21, the People’s Climate Change March drew upwards of 400,000 people to the streets of New York City, plus thousands more marching in solidarity all over the world. Even though people are waking up to the facts of climate crisis, the real shift will come when the people in power make the hard decisions and when people in developed nations radically shift our life styles to a more sustainable way of living.
One journalist recently posted on Facebook that photos of climate crisis alone can’t tell the whole story. We need a better, more complete narrative in order to convey the seriousness of what’s happening to our human home called Earth.
So let’s consider mental illness to be an important part of this narrative of climate crisis. Polluted air, water, soil, and food are making us sick. Very sick. Even crazy.
Why would our brains be immune from the same evil specimens that cause cancer to our other organs?
Anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, and other forms of mental illness are on the rise in the United States. The cause of this is not entirely known. Yet author Richard Louv in his groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, argues that our children are telling us what we refuse to hear: that direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. Louv writes, “new studies suggest that exposure to nature may reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and that it can improve all children’s cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stresses and depression.”
Yet as our planet slowly dies, the forests disappear, the river/ocean/lake swimming water un-swimmable, the bees no longer making honey, the wildlife becoming extinct, winters colder (think polar vortex of 2014), humans are suffering from these extremes of climate change.
In my new book, Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and Church, I write:
“The current climate crisis our planet faces threatens not only physical well-being as we quickly approach the time when we will have to search for limited resources such as clean water, air, and food. Climate crisis also threatens our spiritual and psychological well-being. One of the greatest challenges ahead is whether or not we will be able to adapt to our new, depleted environment. I imagine that living in an unhealthy planet will only make sustaining mental health even more difficult.”
As I write this, the largest gathering of world leaders on climate change is happening at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. How will our world leaders make informed decisions on climate change if they don’t first hear our stories? One of the stories that we need to start paying attention to when it comes to climate change is how this new global reality is putting the mental health of the human population at greater risk.