Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Future Series: The Increase of Suicide Rates during Climate Crisis Underlines the Need for Social Work Action

Climate change consequences hit our nation full force this year. Inhospitable heat waves and flash flooding display the foreboding of climate intolerance to humans as weather changes increase in intensity. Temperatures extremes are costly to life, health, and the economy. This week, an article from the journal Nature Climate Change, reported a link between climate change and mental health, specifically, a direct increase in suicide rates. Researchers (Burke et al. 2018) reported:

 “Suicide rates rise 0.7% in US counties and 2.1% in Mexican municipalities for a 1 °C increase in monthly average temperature. This effect is similar in hotter versus cooler regions and has not diminished over time, indicating limited historical adaptation… > 600 million social media updates further suggests that mental well-being deteriorates during warmer periods.” (para 1)

An increase in suicide is only one substantial area influenced by increasing temperatures. Climate events prompt a broad spectrum of harmful behaviors from individuals. As social workers, our response to climate induced behaviors needs a systems overview, plan, and response to intervene, and in some cases prevent, negative consequences.(More information about  the social work's response to environmental change and how you can be involved is available from this link
American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Strengthening the Social Response to the Human Impacts of Environmental Change)

The impact of climate change is a problem for every intersection of diversity. Crisis interventionists can work easiest with those who have the most resources economically, personally, and regionally. Climate change consequences pose the most threat to marginalized and vulnerable populations. Social work can bridge the gap between long and short-term solutions between these populations. Collaborations across disciplines to identify and develop strategies for communities to decrease anxiety, depression, stress on relationships, health issues, violence, and aggressive behaviors need to be developed. 

Considering the significant increases in temperature averages and weather extremes in the United States the response from social workers needs to be immediate and significant. People experiencing weather crisis require a coordination of resources. Heat waves, droughts, cold bomb cyclones, flooding, hurricanes, or when weather extremes increase past our ability to access resources, will challenge our national reserves to not only keep people safe from harm, but allow time for rebuilding or relocation. The effort to build support systems for climate change impact will involve all systems in order to be successful. Social workers can lead the shift in support systems through advocacy and education.

At the extreme, social workers will develop relocation plans for whole areas impacted negatively by continued hostile temperatures and weather. How will California residents respond to an increase of wild fire severity or drought conditions in agricultural areas? What if disrupting weather systems hit Puerto Rico each year making it significantly challenging to live there? Would the population of Puerto Rico become a third world where people have little access to electricity, food, or housing? Or will Puerto Rican’s be invited into our communities in America to continue their lives and culture without fear of losing their homes each year? How will Southern Florida residents respond to storms increasing in severity and damage along their coasts? What will happen to cities and businesses continually disenfranchised by flash flooding throughout the year similar to what is happening in Ellicott City, MD? These examples underly the need for future planning in the present, not as a band aid strategy as each crisis occurs.

At the least, social workers involve themselves with individuals impacted by climate extremes. Residents in warmer climates are now experiencing highs above 104 for the first time. Body temperatures reaching 104 degrees or higher develop heat stroke leading to organ damage or death. When the heat reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit in California how do those without a way to cool their internal temperatures survive? What education and resources can seniors and children access to minimize the impact of new and existing heat waves? These questions require answers.

Social work educators and leaders are poised to assist legislators in designing appropriate mechanisms and funding streams for crisis intervention and support system infrastructure. Government planning will include micro and macro responses to climate change. Areas across the spectrum requiring intervention include; significant loss of life and illness, destruction of homes and businesses, the impact of economic costs in transportation, agriculture, production, energy and infrastructure, and the resources needed to address each crisis.
The chart below identifies key social work positions needed to stabilize our communities during times of climate change disasters and emergencies. This is not an inclusive chart. Each position is not intended to be the only resource. A multidisciplinary team of specialists supplement the strategies, resources, and labor force of climate change need. 

Climate Change Social Work Specific Position Needing to be Created

Community Relocation Transition Coordinator
·  Identification of welcoming communities for relocating individuals and families
·  Development of identified Welcoming Community to educate and prevent NIMBY
·  Develop strategies for moving small and large populations
·  Systems coordination between moving points
Government programs, Community stakeholders, Neighborhoods,
Businesses, School systems, Health Care, Police and Fire, Military, National Guard

Local, State, Federal government, Insurance Companies,
Climate Relocation Specialists
·  Assessment of family needs for location
·  Financial and Career planning
·  Crisis Intervention
·  Community advocate and liaison for integration between old and new residents
Housing, Businesses, Communities, school systems, real estate companies, local governments, social service agencies

Local, State, Federal government, Insurance Companies
Weather Extreme Coordinators
·  Identification of weather impact potential
·  Storm Consequence Mapping of Human needs
·  Coordinate community response efforts
·  Educational coordination of suicide prevention/evaluation resource materials to therapists and community
·  Develop and communicate area safe zones

Weather Services, local, state and federal governments,
National Guard
FEMA, health care settings, supply companies, businesses, Police and Fire, Military, National Guard
Weather Centers, local Governments, Regional governments, Military bases, National Guard posts
Weather Extreme Case Managers
·  Crisis Intervention
·  Suicidal ideation evaluator due to weather temperature increases
·   Resource management
·  Health care management
·  Shelter stability

Hospitals, Pharmacies, Temporary housing,
Social service agencies, Psychiatric facilities, Jails
Townships, Hospitals, Police or Fire Departments, Social Service agencies with emergency services
Weather Extreme Financial Managers
·  Crisis Intervention
·  Financial collaboration and translator for aid from Internet fundraising, insurance reimbursement, government aid
·  Works closely with Weather Extreme case managers

Federal Government agencies, Local government, Insurance Companies, Internet Fundraising groups
Insurance Companies, Internet Fundraising sites, Federal Government Aid, Townships, Social Service agencies with emergency services
Weather Extreme City Specialists
·  Community educator on self-care, relationship care, and health challenges during weather extremes
·  Coordinator of community actions to reduce crime and violence
·  Coordinate hotline and/or drop in centers for mental health issues related to extreme weather issues.
·  Collaborator with law enforcement officers and systems for methods in decreasing violence

Federal Government agencies, Local and city government,
Social Service Agencies, Police and Fire, Jail and Prisons, Hospitals, National Guard
Local Government, City Agencies, Townships, Social Service Agencies, Law enforcement Agencies

Social work education can provide a pathway for training future advocates challenged by the impact of climate change on a micro and macro level. Answers will come from the collaboration of all disciplines. Please share your thoughts and solutions about addressing the impact of climate change either through education, research or practice. Please participate in @CSocialWorkEd 's #twitterchat on August 1, at 12pm EST or August 2, 1pm EST for a chat on #SWFutures. You can submit questions to CSWE.org by 7/27.

Burke, M., Gonzalez, F., Baylis P., Heft-Neal, S., Baysan, C., Basu, S., & Hsiang, S. (2018). Higher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico. Nature Climate Change. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0