In honor of Environmental Awareness Month.
Like many phenomenons, climate change works in mysterious ways. Its effects are multidimensional. While its physical manifestations are ever-worsening natural disasters and warming temperatures, it possesses a more silent iron fist: climate change has wormed its way into the mind of today’s youth, the world’s most dire victims and fighters of climate change. This development has become more evident in recent years and manifests itself as depression and anxiety disorder.
Climate change induced mental illness has become known as environmental anxiety. Although it is still undiagnosable, the American Psychology Association describes it as a “chronic fear of environmental cataclysm” that emerges as a result of witnessing the gradually worsening effects of climate change. Among affected youth lives a common sense of betrayal towards the government for failing to impose efficient policy measures to prevent climate change.
As the plight of the climate crisis worsens, so do the unnoticed cases of environmental anxiety. Common symptoms are similar to those of general anxiety disorder and depression. However, the guilt and anxiety that weighs on the shoulders of the youth is reflected in the general inaction of those in power in addressing climate change. Another shared sentiment is the panic that is targeted towards a future that lives beyond one’s threshold of control, and relies on the conditions of the world’s climate crisis. Those that suffer from this condition tend to experience a constant, low and dim mood.
Psychologists and educators struggle with how best to tackle and prevent new cases of climate depression. This is partly due to its abstract nature and very close similarity with already existing mental health conditions. The tools which may help one to progress through a case of mild depression, including the idea that one’s situation will improve, would seem unfitting and perhaps even inappropriate in this context. For this reason, psychologists aim to be transparent with their patients. However, to communicate that the world’s situation will improve would only endow a false sense of hope among our youth. One such organization, called Climate Psychologists, works to foster supportive discussions through which affected youth may become better informed and aware of the idea that individual behavioral changes do indeed promote change. Their work also includes workshops, coaching, and behavioral change programs. Although the most ideal means to tackle eco-anxiety remains unclear, so long as it is undiagnosable, it is commonly treated through the fostering of an open and supportive discussion.
Not all youth are indebted to environmental anxiety. Younger generations are more susceptible primarily as they are raised in an environment that is continuously deteriorating and exhibit higher records of mental illness than previous generations. Nevertheless, there are a variety of causal variables that may lead to the development of this condition. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed how exacerbated and poorly structured many governmental institutions are for many vulnerable populations. Ensuing economic crises redirected funds from mental health services, allowing for tightened budgets and a growing inaccess towards mental health support. High levels of unemployment, a widespread lack of rent relief, prolonged confinement at home, and a surge in social media use as a pastime have all triggered the development of mental health disorders.
Although the development of environmental anxiety may hardly be inhibited in today’s environment, certain factors may mitigate its severity. Individual actions include accessing unbiased and credible sources of information so as to consume the most accurate information and access to community spaces and resources that cultivate a supportive environment through which both shared sentiments surrounding climate change and potential courses of action may be exchanged. Perhaps the biggest plight of environmental anxiety is it lives on the shoulders of the younger generation. Since it is so widely shared, to many it has been a catalyst for action and has provided a foundation for youth climate movements around the world. If you or someone you know is experiencing environmental anxiety, know that you do not have to carry the burden alone. You can rise against the plight of environmental anxiety and use these feelings to ignite collective change.