Exploring Eco-Anxiety with Mental Health Providers
Championing Mental Wellness during the Climate Crisis
Maya Gislason and Angel Kennedy
June 22, 2021 • 7 Min Read
What is Eco-Anxiety?
In a world increasingly grappling with climate change and its effects, anxiety related to climate change and the environment are at an all-time high. This phenomenon has been referred to as ‘eco-anxiety’, which is defined as persistent worry and other negative responses to the many indirect (e.g., loss of food sources due to ocean levels rising, etc.) and direct (e.g., climate events such as flooding, forest fires, etc.) threats to the environment, Earth, and human life. You may also see it referred to as “eco-trauma”, “ecological grief”, and “climate change distress”, among others.
Eco-anxiety can take the form of anger, frustration, grief, fatalistic thinking, dread, guilt, shame, social disconnect, depression, panic, hopelessness, fear, worry, and/or apathy about climate change as a result of extensive worry, which in turn can lead to sleeping, eating, and concentration difficulties.1-5 Many individuals who experience eco-anxiety feel stressed about the effects of climate change on themselves, their families, community, and the planet. Increasing media attention on climate change help to spread awareness of the importance of climate action, but this can also worsen climate change-related anxiety and overwhelm.2
As defined by Cate Sandilands, “queer ecologies” refer to practices that try to disrupt assumptions about what is ‘natural’6, just as queer activists have a long history of community-based action to address other social threats through queer empowerment, including the decriminalization of same-sex sexual activities, a public health response to HIV/AIDS, and resilience in building families of choice. Queer ecological approaches suggest that 2S/LGBTQ+ people have an important place in our collective responses to climate change and protection of the environment.
For Individuals Experiencing Eco-anxiety:
Here are some recommendations for managing eco-anxiety:
- promote feelings of empowerment through working with others around advocacy;
- take small steps and contributions towards climate solutions;
- connect to nature;
- join a community group; and
- work with mental health providers to talk about climate health and environment-related concerns.
Working with a mental health professional who is aware of climate health-related anxieties and emotions can provide a space for you to work on self-compassion, develop coping skills and a self-care plan, and managing the eco-anxiety or other mental health responses to climate change you may be experiencing.
While eco-anxiety is not yet considered a formal mental health diagnosis, it has increasingly become a popular term among mental health providers. Many mental health professionals have openly acknowledged the effect that climate change can have on an individual’s mental health. There are also several organizations who are focused on integrating acknowledgement of eco-anxiety into mental health practices, including the Climate Psychiatry Alliance (https://www.climatepsychiatry.org/). Some mental health professionals may also have insights into ecotherapy practices, which centre connection to the environment within the therapy framework. For example, Registered Clinical Social Worker Jeff Darcy offers the opportunity to connect with through outdoor ‘Walk and Talk” therapy in Vancouver.
If you are experiencing eco-anxiety, feel free to ask a prospective therapist if this is something they know about or have worked with in the past. You may find that they have some training in this area or have resources to share with you!
Questions you may ask include:
- What do you know about eco-anxiety?
- Can you tell me what you know about the mental health impacts of climate change?
- Many people find that spending time in nature benefits their mental health (for example, Parks Prescription); do you incorporate this into your approach?
For Parents/Guardians with Children Experiencing Eco-anxiety
Due to both the direct impacts of climate change, and as a result of growing up hearing about climate change and uncertainty for the future, children and youth around the world show increasing levels of mental health distress, including generalized feelings of sadness or emptiness, loss of interest, worthlessness, guilt, changes in sleep and appetite, difficulty concentrating, and disconnection from land, otherwise known as ‘eco-anxiety’ or ‘solastalgia’.1-5 Most children know about climate change, many worry about its impact on their lives, and/or believe the world will end in their lifetime. Caretakers of children and youth who are experiencing anxiety related to climate change can access age-appropriate resources (https://www.climateandmind.org/kids-youth-climate; https://talkclimate.org/) to help these children develop healthy coping strategies, re-connect to land and water, and promote feelings of hopefulness through talking about climate change.4 Additionally, research has found that when individuals in a youth’s life communicate about climate change in a positive and solution-oriented way, youth cope in problem- and meaning-focused ways, rather than using emotion-focused strategies.7-8
“An important way to build young people’s resilience, self-efﬁcacy, and agency is by encouraging and supporting their involvement in activities to both mitigate and adapt to climate change” (Sanson et al., 2019).
As indicated in this quote, activism may help some young people mitigate their worry about climate change. However, others may need other supports to alleviate their anxiety, such as talking with a mental health provider knowledgeable about eco-anxiety.
For Providers who Want to Learn More about Eco-anxiety and Integrating this into their Practices
If you are a provider hoping to develop a more comprehensive knowledge of eco-anxiety or guidance on how to integrate ecotherapy into your practice, here are some useful resources:
What is Climate-aware Therapy?
Gattuso, R. (2021, January 11). Wellness in a World on Fire: Therapy Tackles Climate Change. Retrieved from: https://www.talkspace.com/blog/therapy-climate-change-anxiety/
Sklar, J. (2020, January 6). Here’s What it Looks Like to Seek Therapy for Climate Change Anxiety. Retrieved from: https://leaps.org/heres-what-it-looks-like-to-seek-therapy-for-climate-change-anxiety/
Good Therapy. (n.d.). Ecotherapy/Nature Therapy. Retrieved from: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/econature-therapy
Climate Psychiatry Alliance. (n.d.). What to do? Retrieved from: https://www.climatepsychiatry.org/what-to-do
Li, Q. (2018, May 1). ‘Forest Bathing’ Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How to Do It. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/
Support/Informational Networks and Communities of Practice
Climate-Aware Therapist Network: https://climatepsychology.us/updates/2019/8/23/climate-aware-therapist-directory
Climate Psychiatry Alliance: https://www.climatepsychiatry.org/
Decolonizing Climate-aware Therapy
Wray, B. (2020, August 14). The Budding Field of Climate-Aware Therapy Must be Decolonized to Serve BIPOC Communities. Retrieved from: https://www.wellandgood.com/climate-aware-therapy/
Strategies for Eco-anxiety Responses
Bliss, L. (2020, February 4). A New Therapy for an Age of ‘Climate Grief’. Retrieved from:
BC Parks Foundation. (n.d.). A Prescription for Nature. Retrieved from: https://www.parkprescriptions.ca/
- Sanson, A. V., Van Hoorn, J., & Burke, S. E. L. (2019). Responding to the Impacts of the Climate Crisis on Children and Youth. Child Development Perspectives, 13(4), 201–207. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12342
- Grauer, S. R. (2020). Climate change: The thief of childhood. Phi Delta Kappan, 101(7), 42–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/0031721720917541
- Trombley, J., Chalupka, S., & Anderko, L. (2017). Climate Change and Mental Health | Union of Concerned Scientists. AJN, American Journal of Nursing, 117(4), 44–52. Retrieved from https://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/climate-change-and-mental-health.html#.WsLZC9PwaRs
- Baker, C., Clayton, S., & Bragg, E. (2020). Educating for resilience: parent and teacher perceptions of children’s emotional needs in response to climate change. Environmental Education Research, 0(0), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2020.1828288
- Wray, A., Martin, G., Ostermeier, E., Medeiros, A., Little, M., Reilly, K., & Gilliland, J. (2020). Evidence synthesis-Physical activity and social connectedness interventions in outdoor spaces among children and youth: a rapid review. Health promotion and chronic disease prevention in Canada: research, policy and practice, 40(4), 104.
- Sandilands, C. (n.d.). Queer Ecology. Retrieved from https://keywords.nyupress.org/environmental-studies/essay/queer-ecology/
- Ojala, M., & Bengtsson, H. (2019). Young People’s Coping Strategies Concerning Climate Change: Relations to Perceived Communication with Parents and Friends and Pro-environmental Behaviour
- Full Option Science System (FOSS). (2017). Taking FOSS outdoors. Berkeley, CA. Regent of the University of California.