Critical political ecology and multiple streams theory: An analysis of mental health dimensions within climate adaptation policies

by Matilde Ferrari

Provenance of the research: 

Title of thesis: Critical political ecology and multiple streams theory: An analysis of mental health dimensions within climate adaptation policies 

Research Question: How are mental health dimensions integrated within the Australian climate adaptation policies? 

Type of thesis: Undergraduate 

University affiliation: University of Groningen 

Research timeframe: March – July 2023 

1. Abstract/Summary: 

The Lancet Commission in 2009 warned that climate change is the biggest threat to global health in the 21st century. To address this, countries worldwide are adopting climate adaptation policies, with health now integrated into these plans. However, despite recent studies showing how the environment affects mental health, most attention in these policies is on physical health, leaving mental health somewhat overlooked. This study examines this issue, focusing on Australia, a country of global importance in dealing with environmental changes and mental health on a global scale. 

To better understand this, I use a combination of different perspectives, highlighting the interconnected nature of nature and society, and analysing how climate policies are formulated. By combining these perspectives, it becomes clear how such policies impact people. This study employs a mixed-method approach involving content analysis of official documents and reports, along with an examination of a case study such as the Australian bushfires in 2019-20. The study reveals a notable oversight in addressing mental health within Australia’s climate adaptation plans, attributed to unclear policies and a political system inadequately grasping the interconnected nature of various factors. 

However, the Australian bushfires served as a catalyst for change, underscoring the critical role of mental well-being and its diverse impact on different communities. This study aims to shed light on these issues and encourage better policies to protect both our environment and mental well-being. 

2. What were the most important or surprising findings of your work? 

The most surprising aspect is that, despite the heavy and proven impact that climate change has on mental health, there is still little academic-level research on it. This lack also affects policy implementation. This is a recurring issue in the case of mental health, but when the main cause is climate change, it acquires a new problematic layer. Indeed, the communities that are most affected by such disasters are also the ones least considered within political decision-making. Another surprising aspect is the fragmented nature of Australia’s government mechanisms to counteract the consequences of climate change. Instead of having a federal framework that assesses and tackles the effects on human and mental health, each state proposes a different approach. Such differences inevitably evolve into problems with the coordination of responses. 

3. What did you struggle with during the research and/or writing process, and how did you overcome these issues? 

During both my research and writing processes, I faced challenges and difficulties. First and foremost, I struggled to find reliable sources that I could consistently analyse, which is probably the biggest challenge I encountered. The topic of my research is very new, and therefore very little academic research has been conducted. To overcome this impediment, I included diverse sources from both official governmental reports and newspapers. By broadening the scope of my sources, I slightly shifted my research focus but nonetheless managed to investigate the phenomenon properly. 

4. What are you doing now, and what are your plans for the coming year?

I recently graduated from my Bachelor’s degree in International Relations in July 2023 and moved back to Italy, where I currently work in a youth NGO as a project coordinator for one of their Erasmus+ projects. Specifically, we focus on the concept of social permaculture as a way to engage young people and spread awareness of environmental sustainability and climate change. I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but right now I really want to experience the practical side of working in NGOs and international organisations. Such experience would hopefully allow me to make a more conscious decision about which master’s to pursue afterward. 

5. Following the above, did your research impact those plans in any way?

My research did not negatively impact my plans, as I was already planning on taking a gap year and focusing on gaining hands-on experience in the field. However, investigating the interconnection between mental health and the environment allowed me to discover topics that are not normally associated with the IR sphere but are quickly becoming of extreme relevance. 

6. Do you have any advice for people who are undertaking this type of research? 

Be ready to encounter roadblocks and be prepared to slightly change what you initially wanted to investigate and focus on. It is normal to find some inconsistencies from what you initially imagined your research to look like. Spend as much time as you need on your literature review, as it represents the basis of your work. Being detailed and focused on your literature review will help you identify the research gap to tackle. Most importantly, try to get as much feedback as you possibly can. Sometimes, being involved in the project can hinder your ability to clearly see what needs to be adjusted and having a second opinion can open up new horizons. Lastly, keep in mind that if you struggle to explain your general topic clearly, try to clarify what remains unclear in your research flow. 

Author Bio: Matilde Ferrari graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Groningen in July 2023. Currently, she works as a Project Coordinator for a youth NGO, focusing on active citizenship and environmental sustainability. As part of the thesis project, she followed the core module on the politics of global health, where she discovered the interconnection between the degradation of the environment and human health. 

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