Students and teachers are at risk of unproductiveness, disengagement, and a lack of functioning skills because of mental health challenges as a result of natural disasters and climate change.
Throughout the year there is a constant awareness of the increasingly worsening climate crisis. On top of this, natural disasters and abnormal weather patterns are large contributors to people’s emotions and state of mind. These factors are commonly overlooked when it comes to mental health.
Washington is the fourth most disaster-prone state, making it hard to ignore our rapidly changing climate. From horrific fires to severe storms, environmental factors have a large impact on everyone living in the state of Washington. The impact is felt especially in Seattle, which has a high population of people experiencing homelessness who face a disproportionate impact from climate change because they might not be able to get into a building with heating or cooling or own the appropriate clothing for each season. With the Northwest School being in the center of Capitol Hill, a neighborhood with a high population of people experiencing homelessness, it’s crucial to recognize this and support those around our school community while supporting those inside our community as well.
From the anonymous student survey sent to the Publishing Haus Instagram, a Northwest student explained how the recent fires have affected their ability to be productive at school saying, “I was worried about the air quality and how safe it was to be at school. It was so hot in class and all I could think about was leaving.” This is just one example of how natural disasters can damage students’ ability to be productive in school.
On the mental health side, seasonal changes can make it hard for many people to perform to the best of their abilities. Seasonal depression and seasonal affective disorder are well-known disorders that impact people most around fall and winter. There are many more mental health challenges that arise throughout the year in connection with the climate. During dire storms such as the cyclone last October, levels of anxiety rise because storms can trigger feelings of unsafety and lack of control.
Winter also causes food quality to go down which directly affects people’s health as noted in a 2019 New York Times article “Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered.” Bodies get accustomed to higher quality food during the summer which sets people up to have fewer mood fluctuations, a happier outlook on life, and an improved ability to focus. When food quality decreases, diets tend to become unhealthy, which can create the aforementioned mental health challenges.
Climate change is another factor that can have an impact on people’s mental health. It’s an ever-looming crisis that constantly follows people around. 82% of the 148 students who filled out the anonymous survey said that they felt climate change has impacted their mental health. Temperatures regularly dropping below freezing and rising above 100 degrees can cause discomfort during the school year, which causes students and faculty to underperform. Bodies have to make glucose to maintain a healthy internal temperature, so when people are experiencing extreme temperatures they can get physically exhausted quicker. Items like the climate clock, which is a clock displayed in New York City to show how long there is until Earth reaches an irreversible point in C02 emissions, can also cause anxiety which makes it hard for students to focus.
When asked how the environment impacts their mental health, one student answered, “[Climate change affects me] very poorly. I have a lot of anxiety about it and the fact that humans are actively making our climate worse.” Another student stated, “I feel less productive as winter comes and when I remember human damage is almost irreversible I worry too much I can’t focus.” This shows how the environment, mental health, and productivity are all connected. As a school community, we should support each other as the weather changes and we continue to face natural disasters throughout the year. Making small changes to make school a more comfortable experience will improve productivity and overall happiness.
Note from the PH editors: if you’re feeling unwell or experiencing physical ailments at school, please connect with Health Coordinator and Trainer, Ya D. If you’re experiencing issues pertaining to mental health, please connect with School Counselors, Lynn H. and Erin N.