Alarming news headlines after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s global climate change report in August 2021. It can be overwhelming to be exposed to this much trauma, loss, and devastation. There are ways to fight against being paralyzed into inaction by the constant barrage of doom and gloom. (Collage: The Guardian)
This week (October 3 to 9) is Mental Illness Awareness Week and this Sunday (October 10) is World Mental Health Day. This week — and every week — is an opportunity to recognize the urgent need to scale up quality mental health supports and services at all levels.
What does mental health have to do with climate change?
Climate change is creating more frequent and severe weather events that destroy homes and entire communities. Rampant consumerism and unsustainable development are also destroying and polluting ecosystems, causing the largest mass extinction event in the history of the planet: more life is being lost now than ever before.
News coverage tends to focus mostly on this doom and gloom. It makes sense that a never-before-seen degree of loss, trauma, and change would impact mental health.
I want to share just two ‘tricky pairs’ of issues that I keep in mind when I try to balance mental health and climate change: one is anxiety and inaction, and the other is invisibility and inequity.
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Tricky pair #1: anxiety and inaction
We know danger is coming because of climate change. In Peterborough and the Kawarthas, we may have been spared from the heat domes and flooding seen elsewhere this year, but local patterns in temperature and precipitation have changed dramatically.
I recommend you read local naturalist Drew Monkman’s columns to learn more.
Anticipating future devastation causes anxiety.
According to a recent article by Harriet Engle and Michael Mikulewicz published in The Lancet, this “eco-anxiety is characterized by severe and debilitating worry about climate and environmental risks and can elicit dramatic reactions, such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and panic attacks.”
Young climate activist Greta Thunberg addressing the European Parliament on March 4, 2020. At the age of 15, Thunberg began her school strike for climate action and two years later it became the biggest global …….