How to address the looming crisis of climate anxiety (2022)

How to address the looming crisis of climate anxiety (1)The student climate strike on September 24, 2021 in Pittsburgh brought out more than 150 young people. Experts say this kind of action can help people who are anxious about the climate crisis. Photo credit: Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

Julie Grant

Climate ChangeHealth

This story is part of a collaboration between Environmental Health News and The Allegheny Front for a series called “Pollution’s mental toll: How air, water and climate change shape our mental health,” with funds from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.

It was first published on November 18, 2021.

A small group of high school students from around Pittsburgh set up chairs in a circle on the patio outside of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens for a monthly climate action meeting, organized by Communitopia.

Members of Pittsburgh Youth for Climate Action meeting on the grounds of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland on October 4, 2021. Photo credit: Njaimeh Njie

(Video) Addressing the Drivers of Eco-anxiety | Davos 2022

Each student expressed their own reasons for getting involved, like Claire Bertolet, a 9th grader at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, “I’m afraid life is not going to be like it is today, and we’re not going to be living as comfortably,” she said. “In the future it’s going to be too late and we’re not going to have time to act on it.”

Some expressed concern for social and environmental justice, others for the impact of large corporations on the climate.

Allderdice junior Malcolm Kurtz is an avid hiker and bird watcher. “I am really concerned with how species are affected by climate change,” he said. Kurtz finds meaning in climate work, while Ava DiGiacomo, a sophomore at North Allegheny High School, said the state of the world sometimes makes her feel helpless.

“This summer I started spending a lot more time outside, and there were moments when I would just sit and think, ‘This world is so beautiful, and it’s slowly getting ruined,’” she said. “And sometimes it feels like, personally, I can’t do anything that’s really going to make a big change. And that’s not that’s not an easy feeling to deal with.”

But they are creating community around climate action, so they don’t have to do it alone. On the evening they gathered in early October, some had just attended a climate march, and the group had organized a bicycling event called Pedal-Topia.

Rebecca Carter, talking with Julie Grant of The Allegheny Front about her concerns about climate change. Photo credit: Njaimeh Njie

Claire Bertolet, talking with Julie Grant of The Allegheny Front, worries about the future as climate change worsens.

(Video) Climate change: Do you have eco-anxiety? | BBC Ideas

Rebecca Carter, a junior at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, appreciates the community they are creating. Things like Pedal-Topia, where we can get together and do something in nature as a group of activists can be really helpful and cathartic,” she said.

A need for climate-aware therapists

Dr. Elizabeth Haase, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s climate change committee, thinks students like this are on the right track. Feelings of anxiety, grief and longing for what’s been lost in the environment, and worry about what will happen in the future with climate change, are all becoming more pervasive, according to Haase.

She’s among a growing group of mental health professionals pushing for more climate awareness among counselors. Haase is also on the steering committee of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, which is growing. “I think in five years we’ve gone from being a band of seven to eight people to 240 members,” she said. The group has a directory of climate-aware mental health professionals.

Treating climate anxiety is not the same as clinical anxiety disorders, according to Haase. “It’s a different animal, a different response when you’re facing a real world problem,” she said.

She compares it with treating someone with claustrophobia. She would encourage that person to face their fear, and spend time in enclosed spaces, like a subway car.

“That is not an appropriate response when the subway car is on fire, right?” Haase asked. “The subway is on fire. You don’t want to sit there and let your fear wash over you. You want to start doing stuff.”

When her patients express concerns about natural disasters, climate change and ecological collapse, she advises them to find ways to talk with their family and friends about it and also to take action – join a climate group, write to their local congressperson, or pack up photographs and important belongings in an emergency backpack.

Even just doing something like that gives you a greater sense of control, and it creates a safer space for you to be in when something bad is happening,” Haase said.

A call for therapists to train others

Dr. Gary Belkin, a former deputy health commissioner of New York City, and founder of the Billion Minds Institute, which is focused on the social aspects of climate change, wants the mental health community to start taking action quickly.

He already sees more mental health needs than there are available therapists, and climate change – the heat, droughts and wildfires, and general background stress it causes – is going to make that worse.

(Video) Addressing the Drivers of Eco-anxiety | Davos | #WEF22

We really have to get good at rethinking how we can reach a ton of people across that spectrum, And the only way we’re going to do that is by enlisting communities to be part of doing that,” Belkin said.

Belkin spearheaded a program in New York where mental health professionals trained employees at child care centers, churches and programs for at-risk youth, places that he calls the front lines for mental health.

“We skilled those staff in screening for distress and illness, for basic counseling skills,” he said. “We have to engineer things so you don’t have to look for care or support. You trip over it. And that’s really what we have to aim for.”

Beginning efforts to expand climate care in Pittsburgh

Walter Lewis, CEO of the Homewood Children’s Village in Pittsburgh says a few years ago he wouldn’t have connected climate change with the mental health of his organization’s clients. That’s starting to change. Photo: Njaimeh Njie

One group on the front lines in Pittsburgh is starting to look into climate change and mental health: the Homewood Children’s Village. It has six advocates that stay in touch with 300 members, including more than 100 families, according to the nonprofit’s CEO, Walter Lewis. They regularly check in about education, economics, food, and health, including mental health.

“Probably three or four years ago, it would have never dawned on me to think about some of the types of trauma and mental health impacts of climate change,” he said.

Disadvantaged communities like Homewood are expected to experience worse climate impacts than their wealthier neighbors. Lewis now sees the neighborhood’s high rates of basement flooding, and childhood asthma, as potentially climate-related. So even though his advocates are not mental health professionals, Lewis says he can raise their awareness about how traumatic these types of incidents can be for their clients.

“People are now more empathetic to knowing that, ‘Hey, we just had a heat wave, these are some things you might want to think about when you’re talking to your families or the children that you work with,’” he said.

A new approach: community-based therapy

Dr. Kenneth Thompson and his daughter Alice Thompson, pictured in Pittsburgh, are bringing a Brazilian-based community therapy technique to the U.S., starting in Pittsburgh. Photo: Njaimeh Njie

(Video) Growing number of young Americans feel climate anxiety. Here's what they need to cope

As the number of people reporting anxiety and stress around climate change grows, others in Pittsburgh are trying to expand the available mental health care.

Dr. Ken Thompson, a community psychiatrist, based at the Squirrel Hill Medical Center in Pittsburgh, and his daughter Alice Thompson, a fourth year medical student, have been working to bring Integrated Community Therapy to the U.S. through their Visible Hands Collaborative.

Currently their free sessions are held twice a week online.

A trained facilitator welcomed more than a dozen people to a recent Tuesday evening online session, using a technique practiced in Brazil for 27 years, where in-person groups as large as 200 people gather to share their experiences, learn from each other and gradually deal with problems in their families and neighborhoods.

“The goals of this method are to help people learn how to express themselves and sort of have emotional literacy, how to talk about their feelings, and how to help people develop a sense of empathy with each other,” Ken Thompson explained.

Facilitators are trained over months, it doesn’t take years like mental health professionals. There are now around 40,000 facilitators in Brazil, as well as other countries, and the Thompsons are starting to train facilitators in the U.S.

“Having a safe space that’s sustained over time is going to be really helpful, especially as climate change progresses,” Alice Thompson said. “It will allow people to connect not only over their trauma, but also externally so they can support each other in other ways.”

Her father continued, It becomes a real powerful glue, and I feel like we need a lot of glue in this society…to keep us hanging together,” he said.

In our polarized society, efforts like this are starting to help more people re-learn how to talk with others, and see their shared humanity, and hopefully reweave some of the community fabric that’s been pulled apart. Because as the climate worsens, people are going to need each other.

PART 3: Air pollution can alter our brains in ways that increase mental illness risk

Follow the fallout from this investigation on Twitter at the hashtag: #EHNmentalhealth

Struggling with your mental health? Want to take action against pollution and climate change? Check out our solutions guide.

This story is part of a collaborationbetween The Allegheny Front and Environmental Health Newsfor a series called “Pollution’s mental toll: How air, water and climate change shape our mental health,” with funds from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.

(Video) Climate Security: defence, development and diplomacy responses to the looming climate crisis

FAQs

What is the fear of climate change called? ›

The American Psychology Association (APA) describes eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one's future and that of next generations”.

What strategies do you now plan to adopt when you feel anxious or stressed about climate change? ›

Instead of letting that doomsday scenario overwhelm you, Evans recommends getting a handle on your eco-anxiety with the following approaches:
  • Get educated about climate change. ...
  • Find concrete ways to make a difference. ...
  • Reframe negative thoughts. ...
  • Address all the stressors in your life, not just climate change.
11 Jul 2020

Is climate anxiety a mental illness? ›

What is climate anxiety? Climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety, is distress related to worries about the effects of climate change. It is not a mental illness. Rather, it is anxiety rooted in uncertainty about the future and alerting us to the dangers of a changing climate.

What does climate anxiety look like? ›

Someone experiencing climate anxiety may feel worried, nervous, or scared of the consequences of climate change, and what the future holds for our planet. They may also experience low mood connected to a broader sense of hopelessness or helplessness.

Which strategies are best for coping with climate change? ›

Doing something to reduce your carbon footprint is a significant coping strategy, with the actions that people take seeming to help them manage their experienced distress. changing individual or household behaviours like purchasing green power, turning down heaters, bike commuting or using public transport.

How can we help the climate crisis? ›

Make a Climate Change Pledge
  1. Learn more about your carbon emissions. ...
  2. Commute by carpooling or using mass transit. ...
  3. Plan and combine trips. ...
  4. Drive more efficiently. ...
  5. Switch to “green power.” Switch to electricity generated by energy sources with low—or no—routine emissions of carbon dioxide.

How can we cope with climate change effects? ›

Climate change coping strategies include things like taking environmentally responsible actions (this is a potent way to manage and reduce the anxiety); adopting a problem-solving attitude; cognitive re-structuring or reframing; social support-seeking; becoming more attentive to the issue, expressive coping.

What causes climate anxiety? ›

Climate anxiety is a type of anxiety caused by the ecological destruction of our planet. People with climate anxiety may experience fear and worry about the future, as well as depression and anger.

How can I make a real difference in climate change? ›

  1. Make your voice heard by those in power. ...
  2. Eat less meat and dairy. ...
  3. Cut back on flying. ...
  4. Leave the car at home. ...
  5. Reduce your energy use, and bills. ...
  6. Respect and protect green spaces. ...
  7. Invest your money responsibly. ...
  8. Cut consumption – and waste.

What is environmental anxiety? ›

Eco-anxiety refers to a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change.

Who is most affected by eco-anxiety? ›

The condition has become especially common among children and young people – in some universities over 70% of students have self described as suffering from eco-anxiety, though as of early 2021, validated ways to assess the prevalence of climate or eco-anxiety were not well established.

Does climate change cause anxiety? ›

Climate change and related disasters cause anxiety-related responses as well as chronic and severe mental health disorders. Flooding and prolonged droughts have been associated with elevated levels of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Is climate anxiety a good thing? ›

“Climate anxiety is not in itself a problem,” says Britt Wray, a Stanford researcher who specializes in climate change and mental health. “It's actually a very healthy and normal response to have when one understands the escalating civilizational threat that we're dealing with when it comes to the climate crisis.

How many people are anxious about climate change? ›

70% of Americans experiencing climate change anxiety and depression, survey finds.

How does climate change affect our emotional health? ›

The mental health consequences of events linked to a changing global climate include mild stress and distress, high-risk coping behavior such as increased alcohol use and, occasionally, mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

What is climate Doomism? ›

Climate doomism is the idea that we are past the point of being able to do anything at all about global warming - and that mankind is highly likely to become extinct.

What are the five ways to adapt to climate change? ›

Below are five solutions that can both curb climate change and help us cope with its impacts at the same time:
  • Protect Coastal Wetlands. ...
  • Promote the Benefits of Sustainable Agroforestry. ...
  • Decentralize Energy Distribution. ...
  • Secure Indigenous Peoples' Land Rights. ...
  • Improve Mass Transit.
10 Feb 2020

What are 10 ways to stop climate change? ›

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  2. Walk, Bike (run, skate, move yourself!)
  3. Ride the bus to work (or carpool)
  4. Plant a tree.
  5. Use Less Heat and Air Conditioning.
  6. Change a Light Bulb.
  7. Buy a fuel efficient car (or hybrid vehicle)
  8. Buy local goods and products.

How do you adapt to climate change examples? ›

Share this:
  1. Prepare for longer, more intense fire seasons. ...
  2. Rise to the challenge of sea-level rise. ...
  3. Ensure disaster and public health plans account for more severe weather. ...
  4. Protect farms and the food supply from climate impacts. ...
  5. Protect air quality. ...
  6. Prioritize climate justice. ...
  7. Prepare for managed retreat.
30 Dec 2019

What simple way can you share to prevent climate change? ›

18 Simple Things You Can Do About Climate Change
  • 1) Bring your own bottle or mug. ...
  • 2) Replace inefficient bulbs. ...
  • 3) Turn off some lights. ...
  • 4) Have a “2 degrees” goal at home. ...
  • 5) Walk or bike somewhere you'd normally drive today. ...
  • 6) Vote! ...
  • 7) Plant something. ...
  • 8) Take a hike.
8 Jan 2019

What are five things governments can do to help the environment? ›

Things the government can do to help the environment
  • Encourage Environmentally Friendly Employee Practices. ...
  • Making Environmentally Friendly Changes in Local Government Facilities. ...
  • Foster Clean Commute Initiatives. ...
  • Software Solutions Help to Reduce the Local Government Carbon Footprint.
13 Feb 2019

How can we lessen the effect of climate change essay? ›

Ways to Prevent Global Warming

Firstly, we must stop deforestation in all forms. Do not cut down more trees as it will only worsen the level of carbon dioxide in the air. Instead, encourage people to plant even more trees to create a fine balance in nature. Moreover, it reduces the usage of energy everywhere.

What are the 4 ways that climate change can be managed? ›

Climate change risk management approaches generally fall into four broad categories: 1) mitigation—efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; 2) adaptation—increasing society's capacity to cope with changes in climate; 3) geoengineering or climate engineering—additional, deliberate manipulation of the earth system ...

How do you deal with environmental stress? ›

Following are 10 ways to deal with stressful environments and stay motivated.
  1. A New Perspective. ...
  2. Focus on the present, not the future. ...
  3. Be prepared for the worst. ...
  4. Take control. ...
  5. Remind yourself of past successes. ...
  6. Be optimistic. ...
  7. Tune your senses. ...
  8. Find Stress busters.
9 Apr 2019

How do you cope with the state of the world? ›

10 Ways to Cope with Current World Events
  1. Limit your intake of news and social media. ...
  2. Let your voice be heard. ...
  3. Maintain your routine and engage in healthy activities. ...
  4. Practice relaxation. ...
  5. Move your body. ...
  6. Recognize your limits. ...
  7. Seek out community. ...
  8. Acknowledge your feelings.
22 Mar 2022

How do you deal with environmental issues? ›

Here are 5 simple ways you can help the environment and spark others to become more environmentally aware.
  1. Replace disposable items with reusable. ...
  2. Pass on paper. ...
  3. Conserve water & electricity. ...
  4. Support local & environmentally friendly. ...
  5. Recycle (& then recycle properly)
1 Jun 2019

Can we reverse climate change? ›

Yes. While we cannot stop global warming overnight, we can slow the rate and limit the amount of global warming by reducing human emissions of heat-trapping gases and soot (“black carbon”).

Is it too late to stop global warming? ›

“While it's true we can never go back to the stable, benign climate that enabled us to flourish for the past 10,000 years…we can reach a new stable state.” There is no going back. No matter what we do now, it's too late to avoid climate change.

How can a single person help with climate change? ›

You can fight climate change simply by changing what you eat. You can significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions by eating less meat, choosing local foods when possible and buying food with less packaging. Learn more about cutting down on animal products here.

How common is eco-anxiety? ›

This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change. According to a 2018 national survey, almost 70% of people in the United States are worried about climate change, and around 51% feel “helpless.”

Can anxiety be caused by environment? ›

Worry about the state of the environment can also cause anxiety, and this is sometimes called “eco-anxiety.” The APA describes eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” Eco-anxiety is not yet a diagnosable condition.

Why are people afraid of climate change? ›

Chronic stress over climate change, they maintain, is increasing the risk of mental and physical problems. And if severe weather events worsen, mental health impacts will follow. The report says young people are especially affected by climate fears because they are developing psychologically, socially and physically.

What causes climate anxiety? ›

Climate anxiety is a type of anxiety caused by the ecological destruction of our planet. People with climate anxiety may experience fear and worry about the future, as well as depression and anger.

Who is most affected by eco-anxiety? ›

The condition has become especially common among children and young people – in some universities over 70% of students have self described as suffering from eco-anxiety, though as of early 2021, validated ways to assess the prevalence of climate or eco-anxiety were not well established.

How many people suffer from eco-anxiety? ›

70% of Americans experiencing climate change anxiety and depression, survey finds. A new survey shows that 70% of Americans are now very or somewhat worried about global warming as more are showing signs of anxiety or depression.

Is climate anxiety a good thing? ›

“Climate anxiety is not in itself a problem,” says Britt Wray, a Stanford researcher who specializes in climate change and mental health. “It's actually a very healthy and normal response to have when one understands the escalating civilizational threat that we're dealing with when it comes to the climate crisis.

Can we reverse climate change? ›

Yes. While we cannot stop global warming overnight, we can slow the rate and limit the amount of global warming by reducing human emissions of heat-trapping gases and soot (“black carbon”).

How can you show your concern on climate change? ›

  1. Make your voice heard by those in power. ...
  2. Eat less meat and dairy. ...
  3. Cut back on flying. ...
  4. Leave the car at home. ...
  5. Reduce your energy use, and bills. ...
  6. Respect and protect green spaces. ...
  7. Invest your money responsibly. ...
  8. Cut consumption – and waste.

How do you deal with environmental stress? ›

Following are 10 ways to deal with stressful environments and stay motivated.
  1. A New Perspective. ...
  2. Focus on the present, not the future. ...
  3. Be prepared for the worst. ...
  4. Take control. ...
  5. Remind yourself of past successes. ...
  6. Be optimistic. ...
  7. Tune your senses. ...
  8. Find Stress busters.
9 Apr 2019

How can we overcome environmental depression? ›

Avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition are all effective ways to combat environmental pollutants and lifestyle risk factors for the disorder. The level of someone's exposure to both chemical and non-chemical environmental risk factors is partially within someone's control.

How do you cope with the state of the world? ›

10 Ways to Cope with Current World Events
  1. Limit your intake of news and social media. ...
  2. Let your voice be heard. ...
  3. Maintain your routine and engage in healthy activities. ...
  4. Practice relaxation. ...
  5. Move your body. ...
  6. Recognize your limits. ...
  7. Seek out community. ...
  8. Acknowledge your feelings.
22 Mar 2022

How can we increase optimism and hope in eco anxious people? ›

Here are 7 ways to bring optimism into your life and help reduce anxious feelings:
  1. Change your brain. ...
  2. Breakdown your fears. ...
  3. Surround yourself with optimists. ...
  4. Make a short list of people who make you feel good. ...
  5. State a positive intention every day. ...
  6. Get outside and be mindful. ...
  7. Smile your way to joy.
1 Oct 2019

How can I be less anxious about the future? ›

The following tips may help people with anticipatory anxiety to reduce their fear and cope with uncertainty about the future:
  1. Look after basic needs. ...
  2. Practice relaxation and grounding. ...
  3. Journal. ...
  4. Address negative thoughts. ...
  5. Practice self-compassion. ...
  6. Take charge of the situation.
20 Jul 2021

What age group is most concerned about the environment? ›

Although concern for the environment was very high across all groups surveyed, younger children and those with higher household income were most likely to be concerned. Children and young people aged 8-11 were more likely to agree that looking after the environment was important to them than those aged 12-15.

Videos

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5. Coming of Age in the Time of Climate Crisis: Stories of Climate Grief and Resilience
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