Climate and the Mind
Anya Gregg from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research’s People and Culture team on the link between climate and mental health
When people think about climate change, they probably think first about its effects on the environment, and possibly on their physical health. But climate change also takes a toll on mental health. Along with anxiety, the word grief is increasingly used to describe a common and pervasive psychological response to an ecological crisis, and to climate disruption in particular.
The first people affected by environmental change are often the farmers, fishers, indigenous communities and others who live off and work the land. Also affected are scientists who are focused on monitoring and studying — and increasingly on saving — our natural world. Scientists are “at the very tip of the spear … watching Armageddon in slow motion, cataloguing loss every day,” says Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. In particular, she says, those who’ve spent their career studying a species or ecosystem that’s rapidly disappearing suffer the most. “They can’t turn away from it and focus on something else,” she says.
Some of us are fortunate enough to work for organisations undertaking action to ensure our rich biodiversity and natural resources can be enjoyed now and for generations to come, whether that is environmental management, climate action, or beyond. Even so, it can be hard when we see climate change play out, we may also worry about the actual or potential impacts of climate change and the sheer scale of it. Climate change-induced severe weather and other natural disasters also have immediate effects on mental health in the form of the trauma and shock. We only have to look at the latest news to see examples of fires, floods, and storms currently occurring to see the impact on mental health in relation to personal injuries, loss of a loved one, damage to or loss of personal property or even the loss of livelihood.
The good news is we have an opportunity to turn climate anxiety into action. We encourage you to review the resources we have below.
Learn more about climate grief and coping with climate change distress in these resources from the Australian Psychological Society and partners. Renée Lertzman's TED Talk discusses the emotional effects of climate change and offers insights on how psychology can help us discover both the creativity and resilience needed to act on environmental issues. There are also several things we can do to address climate change which can manage feelings of helplessness. We can also empower our children and grandchildren to be climate change champions.
If you are keen to know more on climate change pop into the archives for a selection of must-see movies, video clips, and documentaries discussing climate change and what we can do about it.
Climate anxiety resources
- What is climate grief? (Climate & Mind)
- Coping with Climate Change Distress (Australian Psychological Society, et al)
- Renée Lertzman’s How to turn climate anxiety into action (TED Talk)
- 101 Things to do to help address climate change (Australian Psychological Society)