On August 23, 2023, the Planetary and Global Health Program (PGHP) of the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine-William H. Quasha Memorial (SLMCCM-WHQM) organized the first in a global series of regional dialogues for Connecting Climate Minds. This global initiative is dedicated to developing research and action agendas while building robust communities of practice to tackle the intertwined issues of climate and mental health. The St. Luke’s PGHP serves as the project’s regional community convener for the Eastern and Southeastern Asian (ESEA) region.
The main goals of the regional dialogue are to inform the regional research and action agenda for the climate-mental health nexus and connect people who are committed to this cause coming from different geographies, disciplines, and sectors. During the event, participants from academia, government agencies, non-government organizations, civil society, youth networks, local communities, and vulnerable groups shared their expertise and exchanged narratives and lived experiences regarding the mental health consequences of climate change in their respective contexts. Moreover, the participants discussed the current state of knowledge regarding the mental health impacts of climate change, identified gaps in research, and explored potential interventions and policies to support affected communities.
Participants from across Eastern and Southeastern Asia at the first regional dialogue of Connecting Climate Minds held last August 23, 2023 – coming together with empowered voices and a collective vision for climate change and mental health
With over 60 attendees from different countries of the region, the virtual dialogue featured expert-led discussions and interactive workshops. The dialogue also included dynamic breakout sessions, which allowed participants to share insights, explore regional needs, and identify gaps and priorities for research. The dialogue facilitated the establishment of a network of professionals dedicated to advancing research, advocacy, and support mechanisms for those impacted by the evolving climate and mental health crisis.
One output of the dialogue was cartoons developed by illustrator Betje Ton, which were based on the discussions.
Attendees at the Eastern and Southeastern Asia Regional Dialogue saw the climate crisis as ‘difficult to lift’ on their own, as illustrated by cartoonist Betje Ton
“Climate change is a risk and threat multiplier,” remarked Dr. Renzo Guinto, Director of PGHP and lead for Connecting Climate Minds in Eastern and Southeastern Asia. He further added that addressing the climate and mental health nexus can open new doors for regional collaboration in research and advocacy. During the plenary session, Dr. John Aruta, environmental psychologist and regional technical adviser for the project, also shed light on the profound mental health impacts of climate change across the Eastern and Southeastern Asia region. He highlighted one study that showed that the young people in the Philippines, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, are showing worsening levels of climate anxiety.
Meanwhile, Jasmin Irisha Ilham, the project’s regional youth ambassador who is a climate advocate from Malaysia, imparted her experience in collaborating with young people. During her speech, she posed a thought-provoking question: “Why are young people so burdened with the responsibilities of cleaning up the mess they did not create?” She also added that “the young people, who face the brunt of climate change, are the most vocal in calling out for ambitious climate action, yet they are seldom supported with their climate-related endeavors.” Ilham also emphasized the importance of maintaining hope while championing climate justice, acknowledging the ongoing struggle against eco-anxiety and climate grief as we forge ahead.
This milestone event underscored the urgency of addressing the mental health implications of climate change and laid the groundwork for ongoing collaborative efforts within the region and beyond. In the coming months, St. Luke’s PGHP will be organizing another dialogue, will identify case studies and lived experience stories, and conduct pioneering research in this nascent arena of inquiry. For more information about the project, please visit the Connecting Climate Minds website or subscribe to the monthly newsletter.