The impact of climate-related changes on the mental health of individuals can be wide and extensive. Ecological anxiety, a fairly recent concept, is characterized by stress about one’s relationship with the environment. It is also sometimes referred to as ‘climate grief.’
The American Psychological Association describes it as the “chronic fear of environmental doom.” Though the DSM hasn’t yet recognized it as a specific condition. Ecological anxiety involves stress caused by witnessing the apparently irreversible impacts of climate change leading to worrying about the kind of future for oneself and the next generations. It can arise from experiencing, being at risk or having a loved one at risk of extreme weather, rising sea levels, natural disasters etc. It is often characterized by feelings of powerlessness and frustration about one’s inability to make a difference in the current state of affairs.
Though there is no medical definition of ecological anxiety, if the worry interferes with our everyday life, one can consider visiting a mental health professional. Also, some people may be more affected by others, for example, those living in the low lying areas, whose jobs depend on natural resources, displaced people or forced migrants or those with preexisting mental health conditions.
But as individuals also we can make a difference. This can begin with our decisions about what we eat, how we travel and what we buy. It has also been suggested to talk about this to one’s close contacts and share with them what is it that can be done as a group to make a positive change. Also, the government must take decisions to make it easier and cheaper to do the right thing for the climate. What I personally felt to be a useful suggestion was from a psychology professor about countering feelings of helplessness. She suggested that to do this one must try to increase the feelings of empowerment by getting informed and getting involved to fight the negative impacts of climate change.
How scientists are coping with ‘ecological grief’. (2020, January 12). The Guardian.
Huizen, J. (2019). What to know about eco-anxiety.