Addressing risks to mental health from climate change: a policy capacity analysis of England

John Turnpenny, Meghan Alexander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change and mental health are inextricably linked crises that demand urgent responses within the health sector and beyond. Mental health challenges associated with climate change are wide-ranging. They include depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress resulting from increased exposure to extreme weather events, generalized climate anxiety and indirect impacts. However, there is a significant adaptation gap when it comes to addressing the mental health risks posed by climate change. Lack of capacity is frequently cited as a barrier to adaptation, yet ‘capacity’ covers many facets. This article examines the capacities of policy systems to design and implement adaptation initiatives for addressing the increasing risks to mental health posed by climate change. Focusing on England (UK) as an illustrative case study, this article deploys a policy capacity framework and draws on semi-structured interviews and policy document analysis. It identifies the ways that analytical, operational and political policy (in)capacities manifest across relevant policy areas, which include health, flood and coastal erosion risk management, spatial planning, natural environment and emergency management. Our analysis reveals that despite some strengths in analytical and political capacity, strained operational capacity is exacerbating and reinforcing adaptation gaps. We also demonstrate some of the complex interactions between different types of capacities that both enable and hamper adaptation. This article demonstrates the value of analysing policy capacity, and its potential in identifying and designing the necessary interventions to help circumvent a growing mental health crisis under climate change.
Original languageEnglish
JournalClimate Policy
Early online date7 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jun 2024

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