Your alarm jolts you awake. The first thing you notice is how stuffy the bedroom is; the way the bedsheets stick to your sweat.
You start getting ready for work but you’re already exhausted: it was so hot last night you couldn’t sleep. You go to work irritable.
According to RMIT University report ‘Climate impacts at work’, more than one in four workers have been losing sleep due to climate change impacts. Literally.
Climate change takes a toll on your mental health
Almost half the workers surveyed reported some impact on their mental health as a result of climate change, with young people overly represented.
Although the research took place a couple of years after the fires of 2019/20, it was clear the climate-fuelled events had left their mark.
Those who had suffered poor mental health talked about anxiety, stress and frequently mentioned fire.
And those fires were not a one-off event. The record-breaking floods in the Kimberley that have kicked off 2023 have showed that the detrimental effects of climate change to mental health are all too real.
While there are disaster recovery funds available to those who have been impacted in the devastating floods, locals have said they need strong mental health support services.
We can only expect such extreme weather events to become more frequent and the participants in the ‘Climate impacts at work’ survey were seriously concerned for the road ahead.
One woman in her 30s explained her fear for future generations, saying, “I am considering not having kids because I feel guilty and pessimistic about the world they would have to make their way in. This breaks my heart.”
“The grief from these types of personal losses as well as grieving for the damage done to this beautiful world is frequently overwhelming. I live in a fairly constant state of climate anxiety and grief… But this is our challenge to overcome, whether we recognise it or not,” she said.
And the tensions aren’t only at the existential level. Customer-facing workers reported having to deal with angrier customers who themselves were feeling the effects of climate-related stress.
Extreme weather events are only going to become more of a norm in a future. Do you think you’re equipped and ready?
Your health comes first
One thing the report revealed is how climate change is presenting new problems in and around our workplaces. And that’s why having a Health and Safety Representative (HSR) at work is so important (or, even better, multiple HSRs).
One of the reasons why HSRs are crucial is they can help raise mental health safety to the same level as physical health and safety.
Your best protection at work is union membership. If you don’t have an HSR at your work, the first step is for you and your workmates to join your union and elect an HSR.
If you are an HSR, the Mind Your Head resources provide extensive information on how mental health factors into our working lives.
Given it can be tricker identifying mental health hazards compared to physical health risks, Mind Your Head is there to help.