A climate of change
09 March, 2022
The climate footprint of healthcare is massive: if global healthcare were a country it’d be the 5th biggest emitting country on the planet. To avert climate catastrophe of the kind detailed in the latest IPCC report we need to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions caused by our healthcare services are brought to zero. We need to reorient our clinical services so that they are financially, socially and environmentally sustainable (the ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainable value). Finally, we need to prepare for the impacts that the climate emergency will have on our health and our services.
That includes using the voice that you as a psychiatrist have - as a clinician and as a leader with wide-ranging influence - to shape the future of mental healthcare services and communicate the positive case for change to the public.
Our mental health is entwined with the health of our natural world. The changing climate is exacerbating existing mental health problems and leading to psychological distress and the onset of new episodes of mental illness. The increased realisation of the coming difficulties associated with the climate emergency has brought on a rise in ‘eco-anxiety’, with this likely to impact mental wellbeing. The communities most likely to be impacted by climate change - for example children, older adults and those experiencing social deprivation - are also those who are more likely to suffer from mental ill-health.
Voice for Change
We believe, fundamentally, that doctors have a critical role in promoting the message that the climate emergency is a crisis of human health. We all have a part to play in identifying opportunities to apply realistic medicine, values-based healthcare and innovation to decarbonise our services as quickly as we can. We also have a duty as a respected and trusted voice for the wider public to use that voice to communicate in favour of greater action in this area.
That’s why we as a College want to support you, our members, to be a voice for change.
To do so, we are helping to establish a Climate Emergency and Sustainability Working Group within the RCPsych in Scotland.
With support from College staff, the Group will focus on raising awareness of the mental health impacts of the climate emergency at a local and national level. This includes supporting each other to develop as leaders in relation to sustainable mental health services; embedding a culture of stewardship of natural resources and realistic medicine; and supporting education, training and events in this area.
The Group will support a shift towards more sustainable models of mental healthcare. This includes for example engaging with public mental health to reduce the social and environmental determinants of poor mental health; social prescribing; environmental prescribing and eliminating waste wherever possible. It will also seek to identify and communicate best practice innovations in the settings in which you work to close the gap between what we already know we can do and what needs to be done to achieve net-zero.
We believe that the Group will also be critical in engaging with clinical and policy leadership, including through responding to the NHS Scotland Climate Emergency & Sustainability Strategy. By adding our voice to the calls for this to be strengthened, we also ensure that the College is best able to advocate with our voice, expertise and experiences.
Every conversation with colleagues on this topic and every decision reflective of sustainable practice can make the difference. We hope you will consider joining the group and adding your voice to our efforts and also consider attending our forthcoming webinar on Earth Day (22 April) next month.
Dr Joanna Bredski, Chair of the RCPsych in Scotland Climate Emergency and Sustainability Working Group