Systems Change Initiative | Environmental Quality
YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix’s Systems Change Initiative is dedicated to enhancing living conditions for all. Our focus is on promoting post-COVID-19 mental health within the twelve Elements of a Healthy Community framework. In Year Two of the project, the team is involved in emerging discussions on the impact of environmental injustice on post-COVID mental well-being. Environmental justice is closely related to Environmental Quality, Community Design, and Parks & Recreation.
Environmental issues significantly impact mental well-being in the United States, and the impact varies from community to community. Climate anxiety, a specific type of mental health challenge characterized by worry about climate change’s impact on a region’s livability, is widespread.
Residents are concerned about issues such as air and water pollution, physical and mental illnesses, and outdated hazardous materials in their neighborhoods that affect their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health. The U. S. Southwest’s environmental concerns center more on the harmful effects of pollution and high temperatures on everyday living experiences.
Communities in Arizona face challenges such as methane and plastic pollution that can harm people’s health and increase the likelihood of mood changes, trouble sleeping and feeling stressed. Extreme heat and air pollution in the Northwest Valley region are causing more anger, fear, sadness, and mental illnesses in these communities. It was reported that “heat contributed to 425 deaths in Maricopa County [and] about 56% of the heat deaths involved people experiencing homelessness.” This highlights the interdisciplinary nature of the work needed to address these issues related to extreme heat, as the environmental status of Arizona’s communities is intertwined with their housing needs.
The Northwest Valley region is also at high risk of wildfires, according to the Environmental Protection Agency screening tool and map imaged in Figure 1, contributing alongside extreme heat to increased feelings of anger, terror, and despair, characteristics of mental and emotional distress across the state.
Figure 1: Environmental Protection Agency Widfire Risk Map of Northwest Valley
Collaborations with other organizations play a crucial role in bringing about positive changes in our communities. We are closely collaborating with the Arizona Sustainability Alliance, Phoenix Environmental Justice Coalition, and other groups to raise awareness about mental health and environmental justice in Arizona. The impact of environmental issues on mental well-being is undeniable, and it is vital to address these concerns to improve living conditions and promote mental health in the Northwest Valley.
 “Addressing Environmental Justice to Achieve Health Equity.” Accessed September 28, 2023. https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2020/01/14/addressing-environmental-justice-to-achieve-health-equity; CLASP. “Addressing the Youth Mental Health Crisis Requires Equitably Addressing the Climate Crisis.” Accessed September 28, 2023. https://www.clasp.org/blog/addressing-the-youth-mental-health-crisis-requires-equitably-addressing-the-climate-crisis/; Reuben, Aaron, Erika M. Manczak, Laura Y. Cabrera, Margarita Alegria, Meghan L. Bucher, Emily C. Freeman, Gary W. Miller, Gina M. Solomon, and Melissa J. Perry. “The Interplay of Environmental Exposures and Mental Health: Setting an Agenda.” Environmental Health Perspectives 130, no. 2 (n.d.): 025001. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP9889; “Mental-Health-Climate-Change.Pdf,” n.d.
 Health (ASH), Assistant Secretary for. “Climate Change & Health Equity, and Environmental Justice at HHS.” Text. HHS.gov, March 30, 2022. https://www.hhs.gov/climate-change-health-equity-environmental-justice/index.html, page 1. Reuben, Aaron, Erika M. Manczak, Laura Y. Cabrera, Margarita Alegria, Meghan L. Bucher, Emily C. Freeman, Gary W. Miller, Gina M. Solomon, and Melissa J. Perry. “The Interplay of Environmental Exposures and Mental Health: Setting an Agenda.” Environmental Health Perspectives 130, no. 2 (n.d.): 025001. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP9889.
 See more: https://fuerte.org/environmentaljustice/; https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/984?=1; https://azdeq.gov/SIP; “Heat and Mental Health | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Accessed October 16, 2023. https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer-professional/heat-and-mental-health.
 “Heat Has Killed at Least 18 People in Arizona’s Maricopa County This Year.” Accessed October 16, 2023. https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/heat-killed-least-18-people-arizonas-maricopa-county-year-rcna95075.
 See more: https://www.momscleanairforce.org/state-chapters/arizona/; https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/mental-health-climate-change.pdf