Diverse Group of Researchers Publish Call To Action On Interplay of Environmental Exposures and Mental Health

Thursday, February 17, 2022
Mother and daughter walking outside

Aaron Reuben, a PhD candidate in the clinical psychology program at Duke, co-authored a new call to action for scientists and health care providers focused on the interplay of environmental exposures and mental health. Read more about the project below (adapted from the group’s summary on their paper).

What are the implications of environmental exposures for mental health? How can we advance science, medicine, and equity by linking environmental and psychological research?

In February 2021, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on the Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions convened a workshop that explored emerging research on the interplay of environmental factors with mental health.

On February 16, 2022, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a commentary by the workshop organizers and speakers that represents a synthesis of what is known about the environment and mental health and what is needed to significantly advance investigations at the intersection of two fields.

The article focuses on the effects of neurotoxic pollutants, threats related to climate change and natural disasters, and the importance of health promoting environments, such as urban green spaces.

Writing with expertise from disciplines as diverse as medicine, chemistry, genomics, and psychology, the authors initiate a call to action to advance evidence-building, regulation, and social justice around the linkage of the physical environment and mental health. Such actions include:

  • Conducting research to systematically examine environmental, social, and biological exposures in relation to psychopathology outcomes.
  • Including mental health assessments and treatment infrastructure in public responses to disasters, both natural and human-caused.
  • Developing a national policy and regulatory framework to document, measure, and incorporate cumulative impacts of combined environmental and social stressors in regulatory decision making.
  • Broadening the field of environmental health science so that research, clinical, advocacy, and communication work includes a focus on natural disasters.
  • Including basic training on the effects of exposures to toxicants in psychology and psychiatry training programs – and including basic training on mental health effects in environmental science and toxicology training programs.
  • Developing and promoting new funding opportunities that require collaboration of environmental science, mental health, and social / behavioral science researchers focused not just on understanding but creating tools for engagement and mitigation. 
  • NIH funding interdisciplinary research centers on mental health and the environment that include multi-year longitudinal investigation to illuminate consequences across the lifespan, including lifelong prospective registries in vulnerable communities.
  • Ensuring diversity of investigators are given full access to training opportunities and supported to lead new studies in environmental exposures and mental health.
  • Generating additional resources for diverse and underrepresented investigator recruitment and retention at early and mid-career stages.

The full article is available here: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/EHP9889

CITATION: Aaron Reuben; Erika M. Manczak; Laura Y. Cabrera; Margarita Alegria; Meghan Bucher; Emily C. Freeman; Gary W. Miller; Gina M. Solomon; Melissa J. Perry. "The Interplay of Environmental Exposures and Mental Health: Setting an Agenda". Environmental Health Perspectives (in press). DOI: 10.1289/EHP9889