What is Eco-anxiety and is it a mental illness?

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Climate change is a universal reality and it threatens the future of the Earth. This can cause psychological impacts on some people, a phenomenon which is known as eco-anxiety. At least environmental anxiety is not yet considered a disease, but the growing concern about the climate emergency we are experiencing could lead to mental disorders. The American Psychological Association (APA) states that eco anxiety is a “chronic fear of environmental catastrophe arising from the seemingly irreversible effects of climate change and concern for the future of oneself and future generations“. The APA therefore believes that internalizing the major environmental issues affecting our planet can have psychological consequences of varying severity for some people.

This fear is based primarily on the current and projected future state of the environment and human-induced climate change. According to a 2018 national survey, nearly 70% of people in the United States are concerned about climate change, and about 51% are “helpless“. Fear of environmental problems can stem from perceptions of increased risks of extreme weather events, loss of livelihoods and housing, fear of future generations, and feelings of helplessness. However, mental health professionals use the term environmental anxiety in the field of ecopsychology. Ecopsychology is the field that studies people’s psychological relationships with the natural world and how this affects their identity, well-being and health. The direct impacts of climate change, such as damage to community groups, loss of food and reduced health care coverage, can severely damage people’s mental health. The gradual effects of climate change, such as increased sea level rise and changes in weather patterns, can even lead to chronic mental health symptoms.

On the other end of the spectrum, those with severe environmental anxiety are almost heartbroken, convinced that the Earth or the human species (or both) are headed for an inevitable catastrophe. The distress is so great that the person can no longer cope with daily life and may even have suicidal thoughts.

Some research has found that nature walks (non-technical) can be beneficial for people with environmental and climate concerns. Hobbies such as gardening and planting trees can promote a connection with nature. Meditation in nature can also help. Forces of Nature Research and Curriculum Coordinator, Sacha Wright told the Museum of Natural History that we should always share our concerns and not internalize our fears.

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