The Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health: Dealing with Eco-Anxiety
Mental Health and Climate Change and what you can do to alleviate the growing guilt you may be experiencing when contemplating our planet’s state.
Recognised as the most significant threats that we will face, despite the severity of the danger itself often dismissed, is the notable impacts of climate change on our mental and psychosocial wellbeing. Rising temperatures, floods, tornadoes, heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, fires, loss of forest and land, and the vanishing of rivers can all directly and indirectly cause physical and mental traumas. People are becoming anxious about their future and the future of our environment. As we develop an awareness that our climate and environment are changing, some are eager to take action, while others become anxious and overwhelmed. At times the anxiety is so intense for specific individuals that they are overcome with a sense of unease and become paralysed. The effects of the climate crisis’s realities on mental health are real - a term often associated with this is “eco-anxiety”.
What is eco-anxiety?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. A poll conducted by the APA discovered that 68 percent of US adults say they do experience eco-anxiety. Between the ages of 18 and 34, respondents indicated that the stress they experience aligned with climate change affects their everyday lives. Oregon-based psychologist Dr Thomas Doherty states that the notion of eco-anxiety once was viewed as a special interest issue; however, it has grown more common due to climate-related disasters.
The degree to which a person experiences anxiety around climate change aligns with how their environment is directly altered or threatened. In areas hit by disasters, we are more likely to witness increases in mental health-related diagnoses due to the evolving environments. Factors contributing to climate anxiety are being aware that the climate is changing but not having any appropriate means to deal with and confront this overwhelming sense of unease.
Groups most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on mental health.
The climate crisis is an increasing determinant to the mental health of society. However, selected groups are more vulnerable to this than others, including migrants, refugees, minority groups, first nations, vulnerable and homeless populations. Thus, climate change has contributed to worsening global economic inequalities. The more temperatures continue to shift, the more groups like the elderly, chronically ill, and children will not be able to cope. An example of this is native communities; studies have analysed climate change and its effects on native communities such as first nations and aborigines, highlighting these populations’ vulnerability and resilience. The elderly within these communities serve as a prime example of the difficulty of re-adapting to changing environments. These minorities are experiencing rapid climate change firsthand as their land is suffering the consequences firsthand.
What can I do to combat my eco-anxiety?
The first step to combating your eco-anxiety is acknowledging it and how it came about. You mustn’t be dismissive of these feelings because they are entirely valid. It is something many of us across the globe, if not all, experience. Viewing this feeling as a problem that requires everyone's attention and contribution is a way to spin the dread, you may feel when considering the environmental crisis’s effects. Across the globe, we are all collectively impacted by this crisis, and it is not something one must burden themselves with as an individual problem. We live on one earth, therefore, have a collective responsibility to implement change.
Another way to overcome the sense of guilt that we often associate with the climate crisis is to equip ourselves with knowledge and understand that we all have a role to play, no matter how minor it may be. Being open to unlearning ideas and systems of oppression that have been integrated into the way we live our lives. Our openness to learn and, more importantly, unlearn can only strengthen our minds and perceptions of our response to the crises we face.
Be proactive! When you adopt the attitude that you very much have a role to play in the change you long to see, the feelings of hopelessness are no longer prevalent. Get involved within your local community. Make a change within your lifestyle, no matter how small you may think it is. Follow accounts on social media that inspire you and leave you with a sense of hope for the future (link to Instagram accounts to follow blog post). Spend more time outside in nature. Read up on environmental activists. Volunteer within your local community - once you do something to contribute to the world you want to live in, a sense of pride will take over from any feeling of guilt.