Local weather disaster brings with it a brand new psychological downside: “Local weather worry” | WFAE 90.7
The news is filled with headlines about climate change. And that affects the mental health of many. It has different names – climate fear, ecological fear, or even climate grief.
Ask some people about climate change and you will hear a range of emotions
“I worry about my future. I worry about the future of the next generation,” said Kennedy Goode, a UNC Chapel Hill student from Winston-Salem.
“It worried me about the earth, it worried me about the destruction of culture. It just worried me about our future in general,” said Samuel Woods, a student at UNC Charlotte and a member of the Lumbee Tribe from Lumberton.
Charlotte’s attorney Christine Lamb said she kept thinking about it. “I think about it every day, usually I think about it in the middle of the night. A trip to the supermarket will send me into a fit of despair and anger because everything is wrapped in plastic,” she said.
Her emotions are not uncommon as the climate crisis worsens, said Susan Denny, a consultant at Davidson College.
“People are scared. They feel angry,” Denny said. “They feel sadness and grief. They feel helpless and do not know what to do.”
Daily reports of forest fires, global warming and sea level rise fuel it.
A December poll of Americans by Yale and George Mason Universities found that two-thirds are concerned about climate change to some extent. For some it goes even further: More than 40% said they felt “disgusting” or “helpless” in the face of global warming. And about a quarter said they felt guilty for not doing enough, like Lamb.
“I think that’s what confuses me the most, I’m not sure what to do because the problem is so big,” said Lamb.
The field of climate psychology has not been around for long. The American Psychological Association has a task force looking at the issue, with a report due out this fall. Academic studies are becoming more common, said the organization’s chief science officer, Mitch Prinstein.
“There is increasing research into some of the mental health responses to climate news as it naturally poses an existential threat,” said Prinstein.
More important are the direct effects of climate change on mental health, he said.
“The news about climate change itself can be very depressing and very exciting,” he said. “But the effects of climate change also lead to displacement in connection with natural disasters, which in themselves trigger massive stress reactions that obviously have an enormous psychological component.”
Prinstein said that children in particular can see lasting effects and even post-traumatic stress disorder after a hurricane or flood. Disaster-related stress responses can occur in both children and adults for up to several years after an incident.
Several therapists across Carolina offer climate anxiety counseling. But we’re just beginning to see formal training. Denny von Davidson said she sees a few students whose climate concerns bring her to her.
“Some anxiety, some almost trauma – like nightmares about what might happen – and definitely not understanding why generations before them didn’t do more about it,” she said. “And so all these emotions come up and we have to process them in order to act.”
Action is an answer to climate fears: Recycle more. Chasing the grocery store guide over plastic packaging. Write letters to policy makers. Join a protest. Think more about your relationship with the country.
Kennedy Goode says her concerns led her to study public health and join two climate activist groups, the Energy Democracy Leadership Institute and Sunrise Movement.
“There are a lot of individual things you can do,” said Goode. “But if we want to see the biggest change, we have to do it together in the end.”
Although few seek help with climate anxiety, Denny believes that climate change is affecting the mental health of many more people to varying degrees.
“I think a lot of people experience this, I think it’s common, I think we need to talk about it more,” she said.
Denny said the most important thing is that people should acknowledge their feelings about climate change and not ignore them. Finding others to share your concerns can help build the energy for innovation and change.