Blog: Fostering dialogue on mental health and climate change

Blog: Fostering dialogue on mental health and climate change
17 April 2024

By Devin O’Donnell, Climate Centre

The Wellcome Trust today publishes a Climate Centre report on creative dialogues about mental health and climate change – the culmination of an eight-month pilot project to test innovative approaches to generate new insights into policy- and decision-making.

The Climate Centre team developed at least ten approaches based on acrobatics and humour (video) to spark creativity, foster teamwork, and promote collective action, tested and evaluated in nearly 40 sessions throughout 2023; it was one of four such pilots supported by the Wellcome Policy Lab.

Our humour-based approaches include cartoonathons, online games, pocket theatre and visual metaphors. We found humour allows for mental reframing of difficult issues, brings new realizations to the surface, invites engagement and bonding of participants, and inspires new thinking.

Acrobatic approaches include watching live performances, trust and balancing exercises, and juggling, and are a pertinent metaphor for understanding risk, building trust and collaboration, sparking creativity and awe, and feeling the responsibility for your decision-making.

In an evaluation of more than 100 participants, we found sessions decreased negative emotions such as boredom and anxiety (34 per cent and 29 per cent respectively) and increased positive emotions like enthusiasm and awe (16 and 35 per cent).

The sessions helped respondents to understand and discuss complex issues by presenting complex topics simply.


We used ChatGPT to help synthesize the qualitative feedback and identified the following themes for how humour and acrobatics can meaningfully contribute to policy discussion:

*Enhancing engagement: our creative methods can break down barriers and encourage open dialogue, making complex issues relatable and offering safe spaces for candour and courage.
*Stimulating new thinking: they can also disrupt conventional thinking patterns and invite innovative solutions.
*Connecting human cognition and emotion: creativity in policy discussions can help bring humanity into the conversation, allowing people to connect on a deeper level.
*Trust and bonding: our methods helped build trust and foster a sense of unity, a crucial element for effective policy making and breaking through the monotony of traditional formats

More evaluation is needed to fully assess the merits of the proposed approaches. For now, we believe humour and acrobatics have radically opened up a space for candour, creativity and courage, and we intend to further explore these meaningful, memorable and motivating innovations.

Workshop participants discuss draft cartoons at a World Bank-Climate Centre session on mental health and climate change. Concrete ideas emerged during the session for improving how a large development organization relates to the mental-health dimensions of climate risks. (Photo: Climate Centre)