We are living in anxious political and environmental times and this is having a major impact on our mental health, so much so that there are ‘new’ anxiety disorders being created particularly around climate change and ‘Eco anxiety’.
In the June edition of Therapy Today, there is an extended transcript of an interview that was conducted by BBC current affairs correspondent Aisling Gallagher with leading psychotherapist Steffi Bednarek, about climate change anxiety. This is a fascinating and informative read and I think there are 2 key messages that resonated with me.
Firstly, that climate change anxiety is not some abstract disorder to be solved for the individual but a very reasonable disorder. If you start to tie it up with clinical language then this implies it is something that can be fixed, it is that person who is the problem, not the environment and the damage the world is inflicting upon it. Of course some people will be more anxious than others and be more affected by general anxiety and depression in their psyches, but our environment is changing and acknowledging this and recognising our ‘shared human fragility’ becomes a key element in understanding our environmental impact and the dangers of doing nothing.
The second message was that the clients that Steffi has seen, who clearly presented with climate change anxiety, were those people who were more exposed to information professionally such as journalists, activists and scientists. Information is key, it is hard to ignore the cold hard scientific facts and not be affected by them or be frustrated with organisations and individuals who are misinformed or choose to ignore or disbelieve the urgency of our environment issues.
As a member of the general public, it is very easy to stick your head in the sand and carry on as normal or think that the whole issue is too overwhelming for individual behaviour change to have much impact, or indeed be wracked by guilt and thus be rendered inactive – what on earth can I do?!. Yet as more facts emerge, as deadlines for change become more urgent, even the most ardent sceptic will be forced to change some aspect of their current behaviour and lifestyle.
We know that behaviour change is hard, it’s hard to do and it’s hard to know how to help people change ingrained habits and opinions. The role of research and psychology into how we buy, use, identify with and accept new ways of being are necessary and ongoing to help make change. Simple changes such as the plastic bag charge has seen massive changes in our shopping behaviour, but we are going to need so much more than this to make lasting changes that will protect our future.
So, really it’s not surprising that anxiety is high and I would urge that if you take one message away from this blog let it be that these ‘new’ eco anxieties are natural responses, and if you’re not at all worried, maybe that is the more concerning disorder. For those who find this anxiety overwhelming, then counselling can help manage this, but it may be some comfort to recognise that this anxiety is not a random or abstract issue and comes from a very understandable and natural fear for our environmental future.
Reference: Therapy Today: June 2019. Vol 30. Issue 5.