Loss of biodiversity impacts on people and communities too, say psychologists

Environmental degradation and the accompanying loss of biodiversity have an impact on human health and well-being and only a holistic approach will assist both people and natural environments to adapt to that change, according to a recent Australian Psychological Society (APS) submission to the Government.

In its submission to the House of Representatives Inquiry into Australia’s Biodiversity in a Changing Climate, the APS responded to questions about how reduced biodiversity affects human communities and how climate change adaption can be enhanced.

Senior APS Psychologist Dr Susie Burke, a co-author of the submission who is presenting to the Inquiry in Melbourne tomorrow, says it’s not just animals or the greater environment that suffers when biodiversity is threatened or lost.  Changes to the environment affect people and communities at a range of levels.

“Loss of biodiversity for humans often means losing access to food sources or places to live or living in a degraded environment where it is difficult to survive or where you are more vulnerable to natural disasters,” she said.  “There is evidence that individuals in these circumstances can experience a range of psychological symptoms such as grief, anxiety and distress at the loss of, or disruptions to, their place, livelihood, stability, social connections, and way of life.”

 She said living in a stable, predictable environment was an important contributor to people’s mental health and well-being, which had been underestimated.

“Research shows that nature plays an important support role in mental health and well-being. People feel reassured and comforted by living in, or having access to, a flourishing natural environment.  A stable and healthy environment helps us to feel secure. It helps us to feel that all is right in the world, that things are in order,” Dr Burke said.

 “We tend to separate human health and environmental health but we need to acknowledge that humans and the environment are interdependent, and look to developing strategies that secure the well-being of both, simultaneously,” she said.

One of the ways psychologists are contributing to discussions is by developing a set of strategies that engage communities in the development of human psychological resilience.

Dr Burke will present to the Inquiry in Melbourne tomorrow, a day ahead of Climate Impacts Day on Saturday, May 5.

“Changes in the environment inevitably have an impact on people and communities.  It is very timely to be looking at how we can build resilience in communities, and with the people who make up these communities, and promote protection of the environment at the same time,” she said.

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Notes to editors:  The full submission can be accessed here: Psychology and the environment (under Submissions) http://www.psychology.org.au/community/public-interest/environment/

The APS position statement on climate change can be found here: http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/statements/climate/

For media enquiries please email media@psychology.org.au or call Karen Coghlan on 03 8662 6638, Rebecca Matthews on 03 8662 3358 or 0435896444. Find us on Twitter:  @APS_Media.
The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples’ lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.