Ecological anxiety, also known as climate grief, is a fairly new concept.
“The impact may be a single event that take[s] a toll on daily life, years down the line. For others, it may be consequences of climate-related changes over many years.” – Anita Vasudevan, White Coats for Planetary Health
Since then, the scientific community has validated this hypothesis in different ways.
“The impact of climate change on mental health is considerably vast and far-reaching,” says Anita Vasudevan, a medical student at the University of Michigan and member of the student group White Coats for Planetary Health.
She tells WDET’s Annamarie Sysling that while the physical effects of climate change are well-documented — infectious diseases, respiratory allergies and asthma, among others — the relationship between climate change and mental health is one we’re just starting to understand.
Click on the player above to hear Anita Vasudevan discuss the mental health impact of climate change, and read excerpts below.
What is eco-anxiety?
Vasudevan points to emerging terms like ‘ecological grief’, ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘solastalgia,’ which are all descriptors for the existential threat posed by climate change. However, Vasdevan also emphasizes that these terms are not formally recognized medical diagnoses.
She says “although our terminology around the mental health impact of climate change is relatively new, eco-psychologists have been documenting this since the 1990s.”
What conditions are connected to climate change?
Depression, anxiety and stress are common conditions Vasudevan cites that can be influenced by climate change. One 2017 report from EcoAmerica illustrated these ties.
Specific events like “hurricanes, severe storms and floods” can lead to physical injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression in the aftermath of a large-scale disaster.
Then there’s smaller but consistent events, “which includes things like heat waves and droughts,” Vasudevan says. “These events have a much more gradual impact which can result in increased stress” both economically and financially.
Vasuvedan says these things can be disruptive to everyday life, causing people to uproot from their communities to seek a more stable living environmental.
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What can I do to care for my mental health?
It’s important to discuss any mental health concerns with your healthcare provider, since they would be able to diagnose and offer therapy for any treatable mental health condition.
But “there’s a long way to go in terms of increasing provider awareness and creating practice guidelines around what the impact of climate change on mental health is,” Vasudevan says.
There are also stress-coping techniques common for anxiety, including mindfulness and lifestyle practices.
Vasuvedan, who is also a yoga teacher, recommended this guided meditation:
There’s also recent research on the health effects of your surrounding environment, which found that study participants who engaged with natural settings versus urban settings “reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness.”
“Belle Isle and even Palmer Park are great examples of places in the city, especially when you are in the thick of them, you don’t feel like you are in a city anymore,” Vasudevan says. “And that’s really what it’s about, creating green spaces that when you’re in them, feel like am immersion in nature.”