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Mental health awareness: it’s time to tackle eco-anxiety

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As mental health awareness week has just passed, it is a great time to reflect on how to tackle the increasing psychological effects of climate change.

As the impacts of global warming become more frequent and intense, more people are reporting effects on mental health. The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report talks a lot about public anxiety and mental health issues in relation to climate change and cites them frequently in future climate models.

For about the last five years, scientists and commentators have also been using the phrase eco-anxiety to describe a specific form of psychological impact caused by environmental damage, climate change and ecological disasters.

With the rise of social media and extensive news coverage, it is impossible to avoid the threat these issues pose to our society and way of life. This constant information flow, coupled with uncertainty about environmental impacts, heightens feelings of insecurity and triggers anxiety.

The future is frightening

Fear of the unknown allows the mind to imagine a future based on worst-case scenarios. As climate change is a global issue, many people feel powerless to do anything about it.

This has contributed to 75% of young people believing “the future is frightening”, according to a 2021 survey. More than 50% also said they felt “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty” about climate change.

Many people derive psychological and well-being benefits from biophilia, which is the feeling of strong connection to the natural world.

But this can lead to eco-anxiety because witnessing destruction of natural habitats – for example, through wildfires, coral bleaching and deforestation – disrupts that feeling of connection. This can cause similar effects on the brain as losing a loved one.

If individuals worry constantly about the future of the planet, this could affect their resilience and drive to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Another possible effect is so-called eco-paralysis, in which individuals become so distressed by environmental threats they feel unable to act.

Finally, we must consider the effects of direct experience of extreme weather events. These can cause severe psychological impacts, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, say scientists.

What we can do

There are many effective ways to protect your mental health from eco-anxiety.

One of the best is to get involved in projects and communities that aim to impact the environment positively. Research shows that actively taking part in such activities is highly likely to reduce your anxiety as it acts as an outlet for negative thoughts, transforming them into positive outcomes. This can build mental health resilience, provide a sense of purpose, and motivate individuals to help make a difference.

Another important way to deal with eco-anxiety is to talk about it. Health problems are often invisible, which can lead others to ignore them. It can be intimidating to express such thoughts to someone else, but vocalising them is therapeutic and you could be surprised how many other people share your feelings. Finding likeminded people creates a sense of belonging and acceptance and can help relieve anxiety.

How Delta Capita addresses mental health and well-being

At Delta Capita, well-being isn’t just a box to be ticked. Instead, we prioritise mental and physical health through events, such as Virtual Yoga and Mental Health Awareness sessions, and sharing hints and tips via our ‘Live Well, Work Well’ newsletter.

Find out more about Working at DC and visit our Reinventing Work Hub.