‘We don’t know what tomorrow will bring’: how climate change is affecting Fijians’ mental health

Climate change will affect every region of the globe. This includes increasing temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like bushfires and flooding, as well as rising sea levels.

Some areas, such as the Pacific Islands, will likely experience disproportionate effects due to climate change. Pacific island nations, in particular, are vulnerable to rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and intensifying cyclones.

Temperature increases and more unpredictable weather patterns pose additional risks for populations that rely heavily on fishing and farming methods as well as traditional trade practices.

As we found in a study conducted with rural Fijians, the consequences of climate change also pose serious risks to mental health and well-being.

Read more: Could the law of the sea be used to protect small island states from climate change?

Shifts in the environment

More than 70 Fijians, both Indigenous and traditional, living in rural villages along the coast and the hinterland of coastal regions and river deltas were interviewed.

The interviewees described the environmental changes that they observed in each village, from shifting seasons and rain to higher temperatures to the sea level rise, which results in flooding more often, especially during “king tides.” One participant stated:

It’s like the heat is on all year round. We are now experiencing weather changes that have never been seen before.

Another Comment:

The sea level has moved into the village. This is especially true during high tides. We are very worried.

Fiji is sometimes affected by king tides, which wash away items from the coastal villages. Amy Lykins

Many participants described how environmental changes contributed to the loss of traditional ways of living and cultural practices.

One participant spoke about yule (a fish found in the seas of Nadroga and Navosa Provinces, which is traditionally fished with only nets):

It is no longer [yatule] visible [here]. The traditional method of fishing for yatule in […] here is slowly disappearing.

The observed losses had an impact on mental health. Participants expressed their concern and grief over what was left for future generations.

We are concerned for our future generations due to climate change. We don’t even know what tomorrow holds. At least we can still enjoy fish.

Read more: Their fate isn’t sealed: Pacific nations can survive climate change – if locals take the lead.

The idea of relocation fuelled further distress.

All interviewed people were aware that they may need to move in the future (in fact, some of the villages visited are already in the process of moving to higher ground). This prospect was met both with reluctance as well as a large amount of anticipated loss. One participant stated:

The villagers will not follow the example of their neighbors, as they have strong connections with this area.

Another said:

It is the only place we have ever lived.

There is no doubt that any forced relocation will have a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of Pacific Islanders.

Residents of Fiji have a very different view than tourists. Amy Lykins


The rapid changes in Fiji’s environment have caused significant distress, as our interviews show.

These themes are similar to those of the Indigenous Inuits in Alaska, Canada’s north, and Greenland. The rapid decline of sea ice in these areas is having an impact on cultural practices such as fishing and traveling, also resulting in grief, anxiety, and mental illness.

Climate change can have a negative impact on mental health. This is sometimes referred to as “eco-grief,” and it affects people all over the world.

Read more: The rise of ‘eco-anxiety’: climate change affects our mental health, too.

More research is urgently needed to understand better mental ill-health in Pacific peoples related to the effects of climate change and to develop culturally informed support. There’s also a need to strengthen mental health systems in Pacific island nations.

Finally, we must take concerted action to mitigate climate change in order to protect the unique cultures of the Pacific, as this will help them maintain their mental health.


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