It was over a decade ago that psychologists predicted that more and more people would head for the shrink as climate anxiety overcame them. There were many skeptics then, not anymore as the world wakes up to a dying world each day.
Alina Black recalled the day it hit her as she bought nuts in Trader Joe’s snack aisle, her climate anxiety came swathed in multiple layers of plastic, and she imagined herself traveling to landfills to dispose of them. She realized that the wrappings would outlive her, and her children too.
She was overcome by climate anxiety as she longed to do something for the planet. But she was hemmed down by a baby wearing diapers, a five-year-old clamoring for snacks, and the pressures of holding down a full-time job.
These conflicting powers seemed to be closing in on her at the age of 37, and she realized that she was losing it. She was in the grip of severe climate anxiety as her morning began with reports of fires, droughts, and mass extinctions. She went to meet Portland psychologist Thomas J. Doherty, who focuses on climate.
Climate Anxiety Is Not Limited To People Directly Affected By It
It was Doherty and Susan Clayton, a colleague and psychology professor at Wooster college who had published papers on climate anxiety. They have said that mental issues linked to climate change will soon begin to have a powerful psychological impact.
And climate anxiety would not be limited to the people who were facing the brunt. People sitting far away and following the developments would be as susceptible. The notion had been termed speculative then, even though the first effects of severe climate change were being felt across the globe.
But humans, at least a section of them, have turned around and have come face-to-face with reality. Their initial skepticism at what they termed doomsday prophets has been replaced by climate anxiety, a term that has entered the mainstream vocabulary.
Specialized organizations are playing catch-up now as they explore ways to treat climate anxiety, which is extremely rational and existential.
But there exists very little first-hand data to go for effective treatment, though the field keeps expanding rapidly. An online handbook of therapists dealing with climate anxiety and awareness is available with the Climate Psychology Alliance.
The Good Grief Network is an extended peer care group that is modeled on the 12 steps for addiction. It has led to around 50 groups while people have begun to specialize in climate anxiety and psychology.
Climate Anxiety Has Gripped An Overwhelming Majority Of Today’s Youths
Climate anxiety is not confined to any demographics, with people of all ages, incomes, education, employment, and gender coming under its grip.
Dr. Doherty speaks of a student, barely 18, whose climate anxiety attacks are severe enough to confine her to bed. There is the glacial geologist, 69, who is overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness and guilt when he gazes at his grandkids. There is the 50-year-old who bursts out in frustration when he faces the consumption choice of his friends. He finds it difficult when they talk of vacationing in a faraway place.
The growth of the field related to climate anxiety has met with resistance. Therapists have for a long been to separate their feelings from their profession. They maintain that climate anxiety should not be seen as any different from the anxiety triggered by other threats to a person’s society, such as school shootings and terrorism.
Climate activists are also not comfortable branding climate anxiety as dysfunctional contemplation, something that can be cured, soothed or controlled.
The things causing climate change are all around us, the plastic in the baby’s toys, disposable diapers, and the food that comes layered in plastics. She began to question the link between wildfires and the diapers that she brings home. She felt that she was in the grip of a phobia linked to her way of living.
She was living proof that people could be affected by climate change and environmental disasters even if they were not physically affected by them.
And recent research has proved that it was happening. A survey taken across 10 countries of 10,000 people aged between 16 and 25 showed an alarming rate of pessimism.
An alarming number of respondents, 45%, said that they were affected by climate anxiety and feared that it was affecting their daily lives. 75% of the respondents believed that the future was frightening, and 56% believed that humanity was already doomed and headed for an inevitable disaster.
Climate anxiety has affected people deeply and has scarred them for life. It has been viewed as an existential crisis that is affecting everything these young people do. Ms. Ecklund says that the severity of the problem has made her move more towards normalizing and soothing. It is about making climate anxiety more of an individual problem for people.