Minds on Fire: The Mental Health Impact of Our Climate Crisis

Marcia Sirota
4 min readAug 23, 2023


This has been an unprecedented season of wildfires in Canada. This isn’t my first blog on the topic and sadly, it won’t be my last. As I write this one, great swaths of the North West Territories and British Columbia are being evacuated due to out-of-control fires.

People are losing their homes, their animals, and their livelihoods. Even for those with homes to return to, the pain is barely mitigated as they look to their neighbours and friends who’ve lost everything.

The emotional afterburn of a wildfire

So many emotions are stirred up by these experiences. There’s the anxiety over what might happen next; the depression over what’s been lost; the fear for their loved ones; the survivor’s guilt over having been spared the worst.

There’s confusion over how to move ahead; regret over choices that were or weren’t made, and anger about the whole situation.

Trauma persists long after the flames have died down

Make no mistake, these are traumatic events in people’s lives and the suffering continues long after the flames have died down. People develop nightmares, panic attacks, lethargy, social withdrawal, and even addictions, as symptoms of their grief and stress.

Stress makes us less resilient to further challenges and more susceptible to illness, both mental and physical. It adversely affects our relationships and it impairs our cognitive abilities.

Vicarious trauma can burn like fire

Even if we haven’t been affected personally, just hearing about what’s been happening in our country can be deeply distressing to caring individuals in other parts of the country and the world. We call this vicarious trauma.

On the radio, we’re hearing that these devastating climate events are going to be our new normal, as the effects of global warming are being demonstrated more and more rapidly in every corner of the globe.

It seems like the world is on fire

On the island of Maui, the town of Lahaina went up in flames in mid-August — something unheard of for a community more used to tsunamis than to wildfires.

There have been huge fires in Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Spain and Slovenia, to name just a few. This, after a record-breaking heatwave that scorched most of Europe as well as other parts of the world.

In California and Mexico, they have experienced massive flooding as unprecedented tropical storms approach the Gulf Coast.

Here in Canada, like in Hawaii, places are burning that have no history of such fires, including parts of Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Families are being displaced, farmland is disappearing, and communities are being destroyed.

It shocked me profoundly that while Alberta was experiencing terrible wildfires, the province elected a government that is pro-fossil fuel. I wondered whether the citizens of that province might have had their priorities somewhat skewed.

It’s easy to bury our heads in the sand

Life has been incredibly difficult lately, what with the pandemic, inflation, and now these ongoing environmental crises. It’s easy to bury our heads in the sand at times like this but what we need to do is face the truth about what is happening and step up, so that we can minimize any future suffering.

If we don’t want to keep being traumatized by repeated climate disasters, we have to take action immediately against global warming.

We have to elect and support the leaders who are focused on addressing global warming. We have to lobby our current lawmakers to reduce greenhouse emissions and protect our green spaces.

people gathered outside buildings holding Climate Justice Now signage
Photographer: Markus Spiske | Source: Unsplash

Its time to act to begin reversing the effects of climate change

The effects of trauma are deep and long-lasting. We can risk being further traumatized by environmental catastrophes or we can act now to begin reversing the effects of climate change. We could reorder our priorities and start creating a country — and a world — in which these threats aren’t continually hanging over our heads.

This will be beneficial for the planet and for our mental well being.


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Marcia Sirota

Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series