It’s well-established that climate change affects people’s health: Air pollution exacerbates asthma, death tolls rise due to extreme heat and cold, vector-borne diseases are on the uptick thanks to mosquitos’ spread. But climate change and weather disasters can also affect people’s mental health.

In a Tuesday morning Annual Meeting session, “Understanding disparity in health impacts of climate change and extreme events,” experts and authors of “The Impacts of Climate Change and Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment” discussed the many ways that climate and weather can affect people’s lives and health. Presenter Kimberly Thigpen Tart, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, covered mental health, noting that as with most public health crises, global climate change and extreme events hit those already at risk for other health issues the hardest.

Children, the elderly, women — especially those who are pregnant and post-partum — people with pre-existing mental illness, people who are economically disadvantaged, people who are homeless as well as first responders are all most likely to experience mental health repercussions from disasters. What’s more, Tart told attendees: Children born today are, on average, likely to experience two weather- or climate-related disasters by their 18th birthdays.

Tart also said that climate and extreme events don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a rippling effect of stress and other issues that can affect people’s mental health for weeks, months and even years after a disaster. People are displaced from their communities and social support networks. They may be living without clean water to drink or healthy food to eat. Dust and debris can contaminate the air, exacerbating asthma or allergies. All of this compounds, Tart said.

And while there is plenty of research showing the adverse effects that climate change has on physical health, very little research has been done in the U.S. on the mental health effects of climate change. Most of the research cited in the report, issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, came from research done overseas. So there is much work to be done, Tart told the packed audience.

There is some hope, however.

“We’re not all doomed to suffer from mental health consequences of climate change,” Tart said. She pointed to research showing that risk management and preparedness education can empower communities, build resilience and teach residents to protect themselves so that they’re ready in times of crises.

APHA’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo in Atlanta will have a theme of “Climate Changes Health.”