Concern about climate change usually centres on rising sea levels, melting ice caps and drought.
But an Australian study has found people with obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs) can harbour very different worries – from fear of termites gobbling up their homes to concerns about thirsty cats.
The study, by University of Sydney researchers, is believed to be the first in the world to document how exposure to information and media reports about climate change can influence people with OCDs.
“We suggest that mental health professionals need to be aware of, and assess for the presence of such concerns,” the study, led by Dr Mairwen Jones, recommends.
Dr Jones, and her co-researchers at University of Sydney’s Anxiety Disorders Clinic, studied 50 people with OCDs and found 14 (28 per cent) had concerns directly related to climate change.
The most common were about wasting water, electricity and gas, often leading to constant checking light switches, taps and stoves.
Other concerns were more out of the ordinary.
“Two of the 14 participants were concerned that increased air temperatures would result in rapid evaporation of the water in their pet bowls,” the study found.
This led them to constantly check their pets had enough water.
“One participant had idiosyncratic concerns that global warming was contributing to a number of different problems including the floors cracking and the house subsequently falling down,” authors wrote.
Other concerns included “pipes leaking, roof problems and white ants eating wooden structures in the house such as front and back doors and cupboard doors”.
The study highlighted how the media can influence opinion on potentially emotive issues.
It refers to a 1994 study that found some children developed obsessive thoughts about AIDS when media reports about the virus and its spread became common.
It said some reports about climate change could be “potentially alarming”.
The study was published in the March edition of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.