Researchers studying the mental health and well-being of Inuit populations in coastal Labrador say rising temperatures are having damaging psychological effects on people in traditional communities.

'Many people said they also felt very depressed about not being able to get out there on the land' - Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, researcher for Inuit Mental Health Adaptation to Climate Change project

In an interview on CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks on Saturday, Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, who has been working in partnership with Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut since 2009, described intense feelings of isolation among people there following temperature changes that have caused disruptions in how the ice and snow are interacting.

"The North Labrador Coast is one of the fastest-changing and fastest-warming areas anywhere in the world," she told host Bob McDonald. "In particular, rising temperatures have led to a real decrease in sea ice."

There were strong emotional reactions to that loss among all 120 people interviewed by researchers behind the community-based Inuit Mental Health Adaptation to Climate Change project.

The feelings included "a sense of grief, mourning, anger, frustration, sadness, and many people said they also felt very depressed about not being able to get out there on the land," Cunsolo Willox said.

Traditional routes no longer safe

Wildlife and vegetation have changed, with caribou and moose moving further north, and traditional berries have been failing to grow when they have in the past.

"In some cases, they're getting less snow than before, which makes it very difficult to travel inland by Ski-Doo or by dog team," added Cunsolo Willox, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Healthy Communities at Cape Breton University.

She and her colleagues interviewed people in the communities of Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik and Rigolet, and their work is run in partnership with the Rigolet Inuit Community Government. The majority of those interviewed are Inuit.

"People describe themselves as land people, as people of the snow and the ice, and would say that going out on the land and hunting and trapping and fishing [is] just as much part of their life as breathing," Cunsolo Willox said.