What can we do to alleviate climate anxiety?

What’s happening? Countries must include mental health in their climate response plans, a World Health Organization (WHO) policy brief urges. The climate crisis will worsen mental health globally, which will most likely affect vulnerable populations, WHO said. The brief makes several recommendations, such as including climate concerns in mental health support programmes and adding psychological support to climate action plans. It also suggests that countries build on global climate commitments, develop community-based interventions targeting the climate crisis, and examine funding gaps for the negative mental and physical health impacts resulting from climate change. (MedPage Today)

Why does this matter? According to the brief, particular climate-related mental health challenges include climate anxiety, ecological grief and solastalgia – distress arising from ecosystem losses driven by changes to the environment. Air pollution, food insecurity, forced climate migration and environmental inequities can all increase levels of stress, trauma and grief.

Building resilience – With the increasing impacts of climate change, it’s important to help individuals to preserve their mental health and wellbeing and build resilience for potential future issues, including pandemics. This is where community-based initiatives can be especially beneficial as it’s well known that connecting with others fosters wellbeing and cuts risk of mental illness.

Interventions designed to address the climate crisis not only provide communities with a greater knowledge of the problem, but they also present the opportunity for them to take action at the local level. Alongside the positives of feeling a sense of belonging, such activities can help build self-confidence and personal empowerment.

Are there any examples? As reported by the UN, there are thousands of small-scale community-based initiatives that are successfully taking action to help mitigate global warming and improve the lives of others. For example, helping to connect Indigenous communities in Belize to solar energy, protecting the Hawksbill turtle population against heatwaves in Barbados, training Indigenous displaced families to care for and sustainably use tropical tree forest in Venezuela, sharing ideas to help tourism become more eco-friendly and more sustainable in Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico and Panama, and empowering women to help protect the Colombian Paramos.

Another recently introduced effort is the Hold this Space website, a digital tool developed by a Common Vision-led team, which targets young people and environmental scientists who are said to be more vulnerable to mental health issues arising from the climate crisis. It provides activities to help users consider their thoughts and feelings, what a more positive future may look like based on science, and how they can work to achieve it.

Additionally, the website provides a platform for individuals to connect across generations and share experiences with others who may be feeling the same way. The team suggest that building this community could stimulate action to target climate change, both at the individual and collective levels.

How can companies get involved? Corporates making pledges to address climate change could do well to get involved in these types of projects and initiatives – or even develop their own – among the communities they serve. This would help demonstrate that they are taking the climate crisis seriously and want to provide solutions that will benefit everyone, including those at greatest risk of climate-related mental health problems.

A word of warning – The authors of a recent correspondence in The Lancet Planetary Health argue that climate anxiety can – at least for some – spur collective action against climate change. Therefore, it should not be pathologized as a mental illness as this would suggest it’s a personal problem or one resulting from a biological dysfunction that needs therapeutic intervention or even drug treatment.

They add that today’s adults are morally obliged to acknowledge climate anxiety among younger people as a “valid emotional response” to the threats they face in future.

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