COP26 - A message from our CEO, Mark Rowland

COP26 is unarguably the best opportunity we have to change the path of irreversible climate change.

The Mental Health Foundation is joining with others to call on world leaders to seize this moment and make bold and ambitious commitments that not only reassure people today but also the current younger generation and those to come. 

As we proved during our Mental Health Awareness Week, the natural environment is a singular and vital asset in sustaining and protecting our mental health.  Nearly two-thirds of us in the UK say being close to nature improves our mood, and research shows that connecting with nature helps reduce feelings of worry, anxiety and stress while boosting positive emotions such as joy and calmness. 

We all have a role in protecting the environment and tackling climate change as well as working towards good mental health for all. But our leaders and policymakers in all sectors must make historic choices that will not only halt climate change, but also protect our environment, and safeguard our homes and at the same time, our mental health.

Mental health and climate change are two of the biggest social challenges of this century.  That’s why I am delighted we are hosting a Citizens’ Forum next week to explore the connection between climate change and mental health.

We feel that a vital part of creating a mentally healthy society means tackling the huge and frightening scale of destruction of our natural world that is made so much more vulnerable by climate chaos.  Climate change is a disaster for our planet and it is already having a direct impact on our mental health – with 6 in 10 young people around the world saying climate change is a cause of anxiety and fear.

Making progress in addressing both the climate emergency and the mental health crisis go hand in hand. Firstly, we must take preventative action in both cases. We cannot wait for the consequences of global warming to get worse before we move to green energy and a net-zero economic model. The same is true of mental health – we need a preventive approach that reduces the huge emotional toll that poor mental health exacts.  

Secondly, both are global issues that need global answers. If we are to avert the climate crisis and create a mentally healthy future, small changes will not suffice. We need to understand how we change our society and develop a way of living that doesn’t have an unsustainable toll on our planet or on the quality of our inner lives. 

We have seen from our own study through the pandemic that uncertainty and confusion create anxiety, while a clear plan creates hope. COP26 must reverse decades of dithering and deliver a sustainable plan that gives us all confidence in our future. Hope cannot survive on good intentions. It requires tangible action and progress.

Finally, in common with mental health, the consequences of climate change will not be felt equally in society.

The poorest, the most vulnerable and those on the margins of society will be disproportionately affected. It is those in the global south who have done the least to create the climate emergency who are already experiencing the effects of extreme weather, failing crops and natural resource diminishment.

Similarly in mental health, we know social inequalities drive poor mental health. It is why we find that children from the poorest households are four times more likely to have serious mental health problems than those from the wealthiest. 

In tackling climate change and seeking better mental health, we must take a social justice approach that does not leave anyone behind.

We call on the delegates of COP26 to make sure that all their decisions will effectively tackle climate change, support people through a just transition to net-zero, and puts people’s mental health at the centre.