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ECO-ANXIETY: how climate change is affecting mental health

ECO-ANXIETY: how climate change is affecting mental health
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Vladyslav Shereshevsky. Hutsulka Ksenya, 2022 / instagram.com

 

Scientists are finding a growing amount of evidence to support the fact that a warming planet is affecting humanity much more than we think. It’s not just the devastation and financial damage from natural disasters. Data from the latest research, which is published by the international scientific journal Nature, says that climate change is affecting people’s mental health.

 

CLIMATE GRIEF

 

Research shows that climate change affects people’s mental well-being, they react severely to heat waves, droughts, floods, fires, etc. The issue is so serious that scientists have begun to introduce into scientific parlance terms like «environmental anxiety», «climate grief», and «solastalgia» — the distress associated with environmental change.

Eco-anxiety is a chronic fear of environmental disaster. People suffering from it are increasingly turning to clinics. 72% of people aged 18–34 said that negative news about the environment affects their emotional well-being. In Britain, teenagers have higher levels of fear of climate change than COVID-19.

 

SCARIER THAN NUCLEAR WAR

 

Climate change is not the first existential crisis that humanity has faced. But scientists say it’s different from some other threats because it’s happening now, rather than being a future risk like nuclear war. The growing power of rising temperatures, hurricanes, and other impacts can no longer be ignored.

Not surprisingly, the scientific world has seen an explosion of research on the impact of climate conditions on human mental health over the past five years. Scientists are calling for a comprehensive response to the problem, pointing out that the source of environmental anxiety and frustration is primarily the inaction of leaders.

In the absence of government activity and a clear roadmap to address environmental problems, hundreds of millions of people are experiencing negative psychological reactions to the climate crisis. Approximately 75% of respondents admit that the climate future scares them, and 56% said it has made them think humanity is doomed.

 

FEAR DISRUPTS WORK AND SLEEP

 

There are approximately 1 billion people on the planet today who suffer from some kind of mental disorder. One in 7 of them is a teenager. Surveys of young people show that over 55% feel powerless over climate change, and 58% think that the government has betrayed them and future generations. 60% have severe anxiety about it. And for over 45%, anxiety over the worsening environmental situation is negatively affecting work and sleep.

Meanwhile, in most cases, diseases go undiagnosed for a number of reasons. First, many studies focus on a narrow segment: clinical diagnoses, emergencies, or suicides. Second, about half of the world’s population lives in countries with one psychiatrist per 200,000 people. 

 

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CLIMATE INJUSTICE

 

«Climate injustice» — is another new term to describe the psychological atmosphere in society that accompanies the environmental crisis. Many people are angry because they have to deal with problems created by others. Young people believe that older generations, having inherited a more harmonious world, have placed an unsustainable environmental burden on the shoulders of their descendants.

Moreover, injustice is seen in the way that climate change exacerbates the situation for the poorest in particular. Both economically and psychologically, as extreme weather events are especially traumatic for them.

They leave behind a long trail of mental health problems: post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. In the most vulnerable countries, it leads to migration surges, loss of livelihoods, food insecurity, and societal breakdown.

 

HEATWAVES CAUSE A RISE IN SUICIDES

 

US scientists are using social media to track negative emotions caused by climate change. They analyze tweets for positive and negative words that are linked to climate data from the tweeters’ locations.

The research team found that heat waves and heavy rainfall increased negative feelings and decreased positive ones compared to control days without extreme weather. Moreover, adverse reactions got worse from year to year.

Research data from the past several decades show that suicide rates have increased by 0.7% in the U.S. and 2.1% in Mexico, while average monthly temperatures have increased by 1°C.

Scientists predict that unless action is taken, these countries will add another 9,000–40,000 suicides by 2050. In addition, mentally unwell people are at greater risk of dying during a heatwave. So far, scientists don’t fully understand why this is the case.

 

THE POOR SUFFER MUCH MORE

 

Until a few years ago, it was thought that disturbing «eco-emotions» were more characteristic of residents of high-income countries. However, recent evidence suggests that global warming is affecting everyone. As many as 45% of respondents from a dozen countries said that anxiety about climate change negatively affects their eating, working, sleeping, and other aspects of their daily lives. These negative reactions are most common in countries with large populations of poor people, such as the Philippines, India, and Nigeria.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, they were significantly lower. However, only about 3% of people with depression receive adequate treatment in low- and lower-middle-income countries, and 23% in high-income countries. Another question that concerns researchers is how context and culture affect climate anxiety.

For example, «connection to country» — through cultural practices such as hunting and gathering — is essential to the mental health and well-being of some Aboriginal Australians. But rising sea levels, drought, and wildfires are threatening these practices.

 

Original research: The rise of eco-anxiety: scientists wake up to the mental-health toll of climate change

 


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