Climatic Change

, Volume 121, Issue 2, pp 255–270 | Cite as

Climate change and mental health: an exploratory case study from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada

  • Ashlee Cunsolo WilloxEmail author
  • Sherilee L. Harper
  • James D. Ford
  • Victoria L. Edge
  • Karen Landman
  • Karen Houle
  • Sarah Blake
  • Charlotte Wolfrey


As the impacts from anthropogenic climate change are increasing globally, people are experiencing dramatic shifts in weather, temperature, wildlife and vegetation patterns, and water and food quality and availability. These changes impact human health and well-being, and resultantly, climate change has been identified as the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century. Recently, research is beginning to indicate that changes in climate, and the subsequent disruption to the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health, may cause increased incidences and prevalence of mental health issues, emotional responses, and large-scale sociopsychological changes. Through a multi-year, community-led, exploratory case study conducted in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada, this research qualitatively explores the impacts of climate change on mental health and well-being in an Inuit context. Drawing from 67 in-depth interviews conducted between January 2010 and October 2010 with community members and local and regional health professionals, participants reported that changes in weather, snow and ice stability and extent, and wildlife and vegetation patterns attributed to climate change were negatively impacting mental health and well-being due to disruptions in land-based activities and a loss of place-based solace and cultural identity. Participants reported that changes in climate and environment increased family stress, enhanced the possibility of increased drug and alcohol usage, amplified previous traumas and mental health stressors, and were implicated in increased potential for suicide ideation. While a preliminary case study, these exploratory findings indicate that climate change is becoming an additional mental health stressor for resource-dependent communities and provide a baseline for further research.


Mental Health Health Worker Suicide Ideation Mental Health Issue Residential School 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Our sincerest thanks to the community of Rigolet for supporting this research project. Special thanks to Michele Wood, Marilyn Baikie, and Inez Shiwak for their research leadership and guidance and for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Thanks to the anonymous reviewers for providing insightful and constructive feedback that helped to strengthen this article. Funding for this research was provided through Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, the Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments, the Nunatsiavut Department of Health and Social, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s J-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship program, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Vanier Graduate Scholarship program.


  1. Berry H (2009) Pearl in the oyster: climate change as a mental health opportunity. Australas Psychiatry 17:453–456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berry HL, Bowen K, Kjellstrom T (2010) Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework. Int J Public Health 55:123–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berry HL, Hogan A, Owen J, Rickwood D, Fragar L (2011) Climate change and farmer’s mental health: risks and responses. Asia-Pac J Public Health 23:1295–1325Google Scholar
  4. Cunsolo Willox A, Harper SL, Ford JD, Landman K, Houle K, Edge VL, Rigolet Inuit Community Government (2012) ‘From this place and of this place’: climate change, sense of place, and health in Nunatsiavut, Canada. Soc Sci Med 75(3):538–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cunsolo Willox A, Harper SL, Edge VL, Landman K, Houle K, Ford J, Rigolet Inuit Community Government (2013) ‘The land enriches the soul’: on climatic and environmental change, affect, and emotional health and well-being in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada. Emot Space Soc 6:14–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dean JG, Stain HJ (2010) Mental health impact for adolescents living with prolonged drought. Aust J Rural Health 18:32–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Doherty T, Clayton S (2011) The psychological impacts of global climate change. Am Psychol 66(4):265–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ford JD, Smit B, Wandel J, Shappa M, Ittusarjuat H, Qrunnut K (2008) Climate change in the Arctic: current and future vulnerability in two Inuit communities in Canada. Geogr J 174(1):45–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ford JD et al (2010a) Case study and analogue methodologies in climate change vulnerability research. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang 1(3):374–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ford JD, Berrang-Ford L, King M, Furgal C (2010b) Vulnerability of Aboriginal health systems in Canada to climate change. Glob Environ Chang 20(4):668–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ford JD, Bolton K, Shirley J, Pearce T, Tremblay M, Westlake M (2012) Mapping human dimensions of climate change research in the Canadian Arctic. Ambio 41(8):808–822CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fritze JG, Blashki GA, Burke S, Wiseman J (2008) Hope, despair and transformation. 1. Climate change and the promotion of mental health and well-being. Int J Ment Health Syst 2(13):1–10Google Scholar
  13. Füssel HM (2009) An updated assessment of the risks from climate change based on research published since the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Clim Chang 97(3–4):469–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Harper SL, Edge VL, Cunsolo Willox A, Rigolet Inuit Community Government (2012) ‘Changing climate, changing health, changing stories’ profile: using an EcoHealth approach to explore impacts of climate change on Inuit health. EcoHealth 9(1):89–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (2012) Inuit historical perspectives. Available at
  16. IPCC (2007a) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  17. IPCC (2007b) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  18. Kirmayer L, Valaskakis G (2007) In: Kirmayer L, Valaskakis G (eds) Healing traditions: the mental health of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. UBC Press, Vancouver, pp xii–xxiGoogle Scholar
  19. Kirmayer L, Brass GM, Tait C (2000) The mental health of Aboriginal peoples: transformations of identity and community. Can J Psychiatry 45(7):607–616Google Scholar
  20. Kirmayer L, Fletcher C, Watt R (2009a) Locating the ecocentric self: Inuit concepts of mental health and illness. In: Kirmayer L, Valaskakis G (eds) Healing traditions: the mental health of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. UBC Press, Vancouver, pp 289–314Google Scholar
  21. Kirmayer L, Tait C, Simpson C (2009b) The mental health of Aboriginal peoples in Canada: transformations of identity and community. In: Kirmayer L, Valaskakis G (eds) Healing traditions: the mental health of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. UBC Press, Vancouver, pp 3–35Google Scholar
  22. Kirmayer L, Dandeneau S, Marshall E, Phillips MK, Williamson KJ (2011) Rethinking resilience from Indigenous perspectives. Can J Psychiatry 56(2):84–91Google Scholar
  23. Kvale S (1996) InterViews: an introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  24. Lehti V, Niemelä S, Hoven C, Mandell D, Sourander A (2009) Mental health, substance use and suicidal behaviour among young Indigenous people in the Arctic: a systematic review. Soc Sci Med 69:1194–1203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mays N, Pope C (1995) Rigour and qualitative research. Br Med J 311:109–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. NSIDC (2012) Arctic sea ice extent settles at record seasonal minimum,
  27. Patton M (2002) Qualitative research and evaluation methods, 3rd edn. Sage Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Polain JD, Berry HL, Hoskin JO (2011) Rapid changes, climate adversity, and the next ‘big dry’: older farmers’ mental health. Aust J Rural Health 19:239–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Procter A, Felt L, Natcher DC (2012) Introduction. In: Procter A, Felt L, Natcher DC (eds) Settlement, subsistence, and change among the Labrador Inuit: the Nunatsiavummiut experience. University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg, pp 3–14Google Scholar
  30. Prowse TD, Furgal C, Bonsal BR, Edwards TWD (2009a) Climatic conditions in Northern Canada: past and future. Ambio 38:257–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Prowse TD, Furgal C, Bonsal BR, Peters DL (2009b) Climate impacts on Northern Canada: regional background. Ambio 38:248–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Reser JP, Swim J (2011) Adapting to and coping with the threat and impacts of climate change. Am Psychol 66(4):277–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Richmond C (2009) The social determinants of Inuit health: a focus on social support in the Canadian Arctic. Int J Circumpol Heal 68(5):471–487Google Scholar
  34. Richmond C, Ross N (2009) The determinants of First Nation and Inuit health: a critical population health approach. Health Place 15:403–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rigby CR, Rosen A, Berry HL, Hart CR (2011) If the land’s sick, we’re sick: the impact of prolonged drought on the social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal communities in rural New South Wales. Aust J Rural Health 19:249–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Speldewinde PC, Cook A, Davies P, Weinstein P (2009) A relationship between environmental degradation and mental health in rural Western Australia. Health Place 15(3):880–887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stairs A, Wenzel G (1992) “I am I and the environment”: Inuit hunting, community and identity. J Indigenous Stud 3(2):1–12Google Scholar
  38. Stake RE (2005) Qualitative case studies. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (eds) The Sage handbook of qualitative research, 3rd edn. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, pp 443–466Google Scholar
  39. Statistics Canada (2007) Statistics Canada 2006 community profiles. Available at
  40. Swim J, Clayton S, Doherty T, Gifford R, Howard G, Reser J, Stern P, Weber E (2010) Psychology and global climate change: addressing a multifaceted phenomenon and set of challenges. A Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change. Available at
  41. Swim J, Stern P, Doherty T, Clayton S, Reser J, Weber E, Gifford R, Howard G (2011) Psychology’s contributions to understanding and addressing global climate change. Am Psychol 66(4):241–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashlee Cunsolo Willox
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sherilee L. Harper
    • 2
  • James D. Ford
    • 3
  • Victoria L. Edge
    • 2
  • Karen Landman
    • 2
  • Karen Houle
    • 2
  • Sarah Blake
    • 4
  • Charlotte Wolfrey
    • 4
  1. 1.Cape Breton UniversitySydneyCanada
  2. 2.University of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Rigolet Inuit Community GovernmentRigolet, NunatsiavutCanada

Personalised recommendations