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Mon, 16 Oct 2023

Climate change and mental health

Climate change
Image: Matt Palmer

A conference starting today will examine the effects climate change has on mental health in Australasia and the Western Pacific.

James Cook University neuroscientist Professor Zoltan Sarnyai said the Creating Futures conference has been held every few years since 2002 and looks to strengthen mental health systems within disadvantaged populations.

“The conference is focused on Indigenous peoples from Australia and elsewhere, residents of island nations of the western Pacific, and people living with and recovering from mental and/or physical illnesses or disabilities,” said Professor Sarnyai.

He said Pacific Island nations are particularly affected by climate change, which has a significant impact of their mental health.

“Rising sea levels threaten the very existence of some communities, causing an increase in stress, climate change anxiety, and related mood disorders,” said Professor Sarnyai.

He said Creating Futures will emphasise innovation and evidence in addressing the social determinants of health and wellbeing.

“What we want to do is bring together mental health community members, practitioners, planners, and researchers across the region and draw on their expertise.

“Both mental health and the Pacific region are strategically important for JCU and we are developing leadership in this field. Creating Futures is a major vehicle for the success of JCU’s effort to become a key player in this important area,” said Professor Sarnyai.

JCU adjunct Professor Ernest Hunter has been the convener of all of the conferences. Professor Hunter trained in adult, child and cross-cultural psychiatry, and public health in the US before returning to Australia in the mid-1980s. He has worked most of the past three decades in remote Indigenous populations in Cape York and the Torres Strait.

The Main Theme for the conference – “Responding to Mental Health Challenges in Uncertain Times” – will examine the existential threat posed by climate change, as well as how to understand and respond to present mental health needs and address the developmental needs of future generations.


Professor Zoltan Sarnyai
E: zoltan.sarnyai@jcu.edu.au