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Getting Answers: UC Davis Expert Discusses Climate Change's Impact On Mental Health

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — We've seen the impacts of climate change with increases in wildfires and flooding, but experts say they are discovering other consequences that you can't see.

Wildfires, shrinking snowpacks, and flooding all paint a picture of climate change, but its toll is impacting much more than what we see. The cause and effect are also being felt in our mental health.

"Sometimes you just have to sit there and cry," said Lupita Torres. "These wildfires need to be taken seriously. We are basically canary in the coalmine telling the world this is what everybody is going to have to deal with if we don't find the solutions."

Torres and Leslie Crenna are climate change activists working with groups like Cool Davis to try to reduce the impacts of the warming weather on the planet.

"It can feel like the weight of not just this world but the future on your shoulders," Crenna said. "When you are focused on solutions, that allows you to go forward and really develop hope."

UC Davis Health Psychiatrist Peter Yellowlees explains the changing climate is leading to PTSD, anxiety, depression and even substance abuse disorders.

"People have talked about eco-anxiety, for instance, worrying about how the world is changing and how are you going to grow up and look after your children," Dr. Yellowlees said. "This constant fear that's in the background of our mind makes us more vulnerable to develop a whole range of other stress-related or mental health conditions."

Melissa Schuster dealt with stress and anxiety after losing four homes and her business during the Camp Fire in 2018 that destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise. Years of massive wildfires since then only add to her concern.

"If I stop and think about it, it's more than I can handle. It's devastating," Schuster said.

While rebuilding her family's legacy, there is still some hesitation in thinking about her global footprint.

"The rebuilding is going to cause even more stressors on the Earth," Schuster said. "I wake up instead of being joyful about rebuilding. Part of me is, but another part is saying 'Is this the right thing to do?' "

It's a climate change conflict many are trying to come to terms with.

"We need to be better to the Earth," Schuster said.

Dr. Yellowlees suggests connecting with the community, focusing on solutions and taking actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change to help your mental health.

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