Psychological distress can come in many different forms. Often, things can seem so vast and out-of-your hands that it feels impossible to preserve your mental health. One thing that can make someone feel this way is eco-anxiety.
We all know the facts. The climate is changing. This change is resulting in an increase in extreme weather events including hurricanes and droughts and sea level rise around the world. Ecosystems aren’t able to keep up with the dramatic change and are irreversibly collapsing. If we aren’t able to change our collective industrial behaviour then by 2050, 200 million people will be displaced from their homes, food security will be in major decline and more than 1 million species of animal will be lost.
Being faced by such a huge and complicated issue can be extremely damaging to our mental health. A study of 10,000 young people in 10 countries showed that ‘45% of participants said their feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives’.
I have personally had sleepless nights and foggy days thinking over and over in my head; ‘Are we going to lose everything?’, ‘How are we in this mess?’ and ‘How do we get out of it?’. Once you go down that rabbit hole, it is hard to find a way back out. The truth is, it is all just too much for just one person to work it all out.
But then, how are we meant to be happy getting on with our lives when our not-so-distant future and our children's future is looking like it might be filled with so much suffering?
Well, there is good news.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists recognise the “increasing evidence of both direct and indirect impacts on mental health from the climate and ecological emergency”. They are pushing for health services to “help validate and support patients or colleagues who are experiencing eco-distress”. This validation and support comes from the recognition that eco-anxiety, or eco-distress, “is not a mental disorder” and that “it should be considered a meaningful response to the climate and ecological emergency”.
Because it is not a disorder, but instead a rational response, one of the World Health Organisation’s five recommendations to address the mental health impact of climate change is to; “integrate mental health support with climate action”. This means that you can do things, not only to help the planet, but to help your mental health as well. How to cope with climate anxiety is a webpage created by Sweco that includes a list of brilliant ways to combat climate change and at the same time challenge your climate related anxiety.
Understandably, however, you might not have either the time or energy to get involved with taking action. Reading articles published by the Earth Optimism website is a quick and easy way to cut through the overwhelming swarm of negative stories about the climate that you might observe on mainstream news. Created by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, the website emerged from two key realisations; The first being that ‘fear without hope leads to apathy rather than action’, and the second being that ‘conservation successes are numerous but largely invisible to the general public’.
Positive climate news can be a source of hope that can help create a bit of breathing space if you are suffering from climate-distress. Sharing positive stories about the climate doesn’t just alleviate climate anxiety. It can also get people involved in treating our planet in a more considered way. If you or someone you know is struggling with climate-anxiety then share those positive stories, and share this article. The way you feel is valid and it’s about time we started recognising that.