Eco-anxiety. Climate grief. These are just a few of the terms psychiatrists, researchers, and community leaders use to describe peoples’ feelings of fear and sadness when confronting the reality of impending environmental catastrophe.
Source: BBC Ideas/YouTube
But as the New York Times reports, people are finding new ways to cope.
The American Psychological Association released a poll in October that found over two-thirds of Americans are somewhat or extremely anxious about climate change; more than half worry that stress around climate change is damaging their mental health. Author Jenny Offill explored the subject in her recent book Weather; the book’s protagonist grapples with anxiety over climate change and environmental disaster.
Different groups have emerged to tackle the problem. The Climate Psychiatry Alliance is creating a directory of “climate-aware” therapists. Dr. Britt Wray, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene, channeled her own climate change anxiety into a newsletter: Gen Dred offers coping tips to readers and has over 2,000 subscribers. Dr. Krittee, a senior climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, leads workshops on dealing with climate grief; she also works with farmers in India whose livelihoods have been impacted by climate change.
As noted in the Times piece, people of color experience the psychological effects of climate change more acutely than the white and affluent. Climate change affects them disproportionately, and its psychological impact interweaves with the racial trauma they have experienced for generations. For this reason, some of Dr. Krittee’s sessions are only open to people of color. Sherie Bedonia, the founder of the Native American Counseling and Healing Collective, says that Native people may not use terms like eco-anxiety, but they grieve the loss of their land and culture. This grief is bound up with sadness over the fate of our planet.
Connection and Acceptance
Those involved in treating climate-related anxiety and grief emphasize the importance of accepting rather than burying these emotions. Sharing them with others who feel the same can help individuals cope and serve as a catalyst for change. As Dr. Jennifer Atkinson told Times reporter Susan Shain, “If we got rid of those feelings, we’d lose the whole motivation to stay in this fight.”
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