During its Annual Meeting & Expo last fall, the American Public Health Association and Climate for Health’s parent organization, ecoAmerica, held their first-ever Learning Institute: "Climate Change and Health: Building Your Expertise and Leadership for a 21st-Century Climate for Health.” (Our partners in this venture included the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.) The goal: to help prepare participants to speak as leaders on climate and health impacts and solutions.
To expand the number of public health professionals who have the support they need to learn about the issues, ecoAmerica awarded Learning Institute scholarships to 10 individuals from all over the United States. Boasting a diversity of backgrounds and experience, these “Climate Champions” will continue to work throughout the year to promote awareness of and engagement on climate change as a health priority.
As part of this program, each month during 2017 the Climate for Health blog will publish a Q&A with one of our Climate Champions on how the Learning Institute inspired them and how they plan to integrate it into their work. Each blog will be keyed to the monthly theme of APHA’s Year of Climate Change and Health. June's theme is Mental Health. (Answers are an edited composite of information shared with us.)
This month's Champion is Tanjila Taskin, a graduate research assistant at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. Tanjila is working with the Tuberculosis Epidemiologic Studies Consortium while she pursues a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in environmental and occupational health sciences. She also holds an M.P.H. in epidemiology from North South University in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Tanjila, what drew you to the Learning Institute?
I plan to pursue a career as an environmental epidemiologist. The Learning Institute course seemed like a good starting point for learning about and addressing the health impacts of climate change, and protecting both people and the environment to prevent further harm. It was important to me to learn the right way to communicate about and disseminate these messages to the larger community.
How would you summarize your Learning Institute experience, and what were your takeaways from the course?
By enhancing my knowledge of climate change and its importance to human health, the Learning Institute has helped me to develop professional credibility. For me, the lessons that made the greatest impact were using proper phrasing in our communications, depending on our audience; framing solutions in terms of benefits to the community rather than harms to the environment; and the importance of promoting a green lifestyle and saving energy.
Also, the course introduced me to the “Let’s Talk Health & Climate” guide. It is a treasure to the public health profession!
How do you plan to apply what you’ve learned?
The Learning Institute helped me to understand the need to build awareness of how climate change causes many chronic diseases – including unstable mental health. I believe that addressing climate change on behalf of our mental well-being will also lead to greater physical and social well-being. As a prospective Ph.D. student, I would like to develop expertise in identifying the association between climate change and chronic diseases like this.
Given what you see in your work, why do you feel climate change is an important issue for other health professionals?
Studies show that climate change has a direct impact on physical and mental health including trauma, shock, stress, anxiety, and depression. In fact, a significant association has been found between the occurrence of drought and farmer suicides in Australia. Health care professionals have a great influence on their patients, who trust the information they provide. So to ensure a better life today and healthy future generations, they need to play a leadership role, both professionally and personally. They can start by adopting climate-change awareness components in their existing practice as one way to help prevent mental illness.
How would you recommend health professionals engage others on climate change?
It is urgent for health care professionals to model climate-aware behavior, such as giving lifestyle tips to our patients and clients and by playing an advocacy role in our personal and professional communities. I highly recommend using ecoAmerica’s “15 Steps to Create Effective Climate Communication” as a tool to engage others.
What are you currently doing to raise awareness and engagement around climate change?
I promote climate change awareness among members of my student organization utilizing the “15 Steps” guide. Beyond this, I am promoting green practices at my workplace and sharing information about the effects of climate change on mental health, including how extreme weather events can trigger stress reactions due to its impacts on people’s families and their surroundings. On a personal level, I like to give plants as gifts with a card reminding the recipient to “Turn up the thermostat in the summer to save energy!” Overall, I like to frame the climate as “not mine, but ours.”
NOTE: Beginning next week, Climate for Health program manager Tim Kelly will write and edit this blog.
Miranda Spencer is a freelance writer and editor specializing in environmental issues. If you have comments, questions, ideas, or would like to submit a blog of your own, feel free to contact Tim Kelly at email@example.com.