The Impacts of Climate Change on the Mental Wellness of Indigenous Peoples Around the World


A systematic literature review conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney, and published in February 2022, reaffirms that climate change has direct, indirect, and different effects on Indigenous mental wellness globally. When attachment to land is disrupted by the effects of extreme weather events, the resultant upheaval triggers different emotions among various Indigenous peoples. The relationship among Indigenous peoples, emotions, and climate change effects, varies from place to place.

According to the research study,  emotional responses to the effects of climate change, vary globally among Indigenous peoples. For example, feelings of frustration are documented among the peoples of rural savannahs in Western Africa, who experience erratic weather, caused by climate change. Meanwhile, aggression is noted to increase among Indigenous people in Australia who are impacted by droughts. Inuit experiencing loss of sea ice are documented with ecological grief, and risk factors contributing to PTSD are also documented about Taiwanese communities experiencing typhoons. These examples offer insights into the impacts of direct pressures of climate change on Indigenous wellness, and how the impact can vary from location to location and among various Indigenous communities. In these ways, unexpected, prolonged, and repeated changes in the land can be understood as negatively impacting Indigenous health. There are also indirect pressures of climate change that result in distress and that undermine mental wellness. Indirect pressures include decreased access to land and fewer opportunities to pass along Indigenous knowledge. When land connections are threatened or removed, mental wellness declines. Disruptions to culture and disruptions to land become detrimental to the health and wellbeing of Indigenous community members.

While the effects of climate change on the land brought on by adverse weather conditions are detrimental to Indigenous health, the research study notes how the “intrinsic connection and attachment to land” reduces stress and supports overall mental wellness. For example, Inuit Elders in Rigolet, Canada, have shown how spending time on the land enhances mental wellness among individuals and across whole communities.

Different aspects that affect the vulnerability of Indigenous peoples to climate change and mental wellness of Indigenous peoples include, perceptions and understandings of climate change; place attachment; disruption to culture; food insecurity; and broader, existing social injustices. Across many cultures, maintaining and sharing cultural traditions are ways to cope with climate change. For example, Torres Strait Islander Peoples engage in music, art, and traditional teachings, all known to enhance emotional well being.

The research provides different examples from all over the world, and shows how Indigenous communities are experiencing threats to mental wellness brought upon by climate change. Social supports and kinship ties assist Indigenous peoples to adapt to climate change and to uphold coping mechanisms to manage mental wellness. Perceptions and viewpoints about vulnerability and community resilience differ among Indigenous peoples, depending on where they live, how they engage with traditional knowledge, and how they share this knowledge among diverse members of their communities, including among youth, women, and Elders.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: David Clode, Unsplash)