The Biden administration's recent executive order calling for a comprehensive report on climate-related migration and for reorganizing the U.S. migration system comes at a critically important time.

Across the United States, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, winter storms and rising tides are leading to more migrations. In Oregon, as of late last December, more than 1,000 people are still displaced due to the 2020 wildfires. And in Louisiana, the first so-called “climate change refugees” are being resettled.

The challenges climate migrant families face are not limited to basic needs such as housing and employment. Rather, as we argue in our article on crisis related migration and family mental health, being displaced by climate change may also create substantial trauma negatively impacting mental health. It is imperative that policymakers take into account these mental health needs when devising climate change–related policies.

Mental health challenges can arise as soon as disaster strikes and before migration occurs. A large body of documents show how exposures to disasters can be traumatic and detrimental to mental health. For instance, following Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, and Michael, people who were displaced by the storm exhibited higher rates of posttraumatic stress compared to people who did not relocate.

The early stages of moving can also result in trauma. Families who move are often separated from the communities and environments on which they rely to “bounce back” from disasters and other traumatic events. They are sometimes even separated from each other. For example, the temporary trailers the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided after Hurricane Katrina were not large enough to accommodate family gatherings for the often extensive and tight knit family structures of New Orleans Black residents. Lack of opportunities to get together as large family units served to undermine family life for many.

These stressors can accumulate and intersect with other stressors—such as racial and/or ethnic discrimination or poverty and result in physical health problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. These stressors can also impact families, resulting in child behavioral problems, parental work stress, and family conflict. Trauma and stress can also stretch across communities and from one generation to another through community disadvantage.

Read the full article about mental health by Aaron Clark-Ginsberg at RAND Corporation.