The many ramifications of climate change have left a lasting mark on the world’s ecosystem, economy and prospects, with their effects on the global population’s mental health also being explored. Read on to learn more about how to deal with eco anxiety, depression because of climate change, and other relevant topics.
Climate change is defined as long-term shifts in the world’s temperature and weather patterns. Though such variations can occur naturally, scientific data has shown that since the 19th Century, climate change has been brought about by human activity. Specifically, through the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, gas, and oil.
The greenhouse gasses emitted by burning such fossil fuels cause global warming, by trapping heat within the atmosphere, and raising the earth’s overall temperature as a result. Energy production, agriculture, transportation, and building are some of the industries to produce the largest amounts of greenhouse gasses. They also greatly add to overall pollution, further damaging, simplifying, and diminishing the world’s ecosystems.
The resulting effects of climate change are numerous, and include the melting of the polar ice caps, rising sea levels and flooding, severe droughts and water shortage, disastrous storms, and changing ecosystems across the globe. Global organizations have begun stressing that a complete transformation of the world’s carbon emission policy must take place, with the United Nations stressing there is little more than a decade before the point of no return is reached.
To negate rising temperatures and climate change as a whole, many governments have begun pushing to cut greenhouse gas emission, by switching to renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind powers. International understandings, such as the Paris Agreement, have been reached to further this goal. However, as the latest UN reports note, the current state of carbon emission is not only extremely off the mark, but the world would have to successfully implement a “negative emissions” program to bring the planet back on track. Such a program would include converting agricultural land to tree-planting areas, in addition to switching over to crops that can be used for energy.
Feeling eco anxiety, or anxiety related to climate change and its effects on our global ecosystem, has been shown to be on the rise. A Yale study from 2018, for instance, found that 64% of participants were concerned with climate change, compared to 49% in 2010. Those stating they were “very worried” made up 21% of those taking part in the study, doubling the rate of a similar category from a 2015 survey. Another survey found that 77% of those aged 16-25 see the future as “frightening.”
Anxiety is an understandable response to the real threat that global warming poses. Its central features mimic those of fear, a survival mechanism that induces a heightened level of awareness to effectively respond to an immediate threat. However, while fear dissipates once that threat is gone, anxiety continues to maintain a hypervigilance to one’s surroundings and internal world, even when there is no life-threatening issue before them.
With climate change, those who might be prone to anxiety could find themselves constantly worrying about the state of the planet. To that end, studies have shown that individuals whose personality leans toward neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness are more likely to develop anxiety. Neuroticism in particular may be linked with eco anxiety, as it is conducive to assuming the worst outcome of a given situation. With scientists emphatically warning of climate change’s impending and dire consequences, perhaps the question should be whether those developing eco anxiety are dealing not with a form of anxiety, but with a grounded, and very real fear of the current state of events.
Climate change depression, much like eco anxiety, has grown out of a real concern for the state of the planet. The difference, however, is in the ability to trust that may get better: while anxiety works as an overzealous mode of survival, depression is a state where that overworking mental energy has been drained, so that the individual no longer believes their efforts will lead to a real improvement.
Teenagers and young adults in particular are attesting to climate-related depression. These members of the Gen-Z generation are seeing how entire industries are continuing to pollute and contribute to global warming, without being effectively curtailed by their governments or international initiatives. As flash-fires are struck up in Australia, the US and elsewhere, research in countries in the global south and north has found that 68% of young individuals state they feel sadness, and 39% are hesitant to have children of their own.
Treating climate change-derived mental health issues is rather similar to treating the same conditions: both anxiety or depression have been widely studied, with the several treatments recognized by the FDA for their safety and efficacy. Among them are antidepressants (which pull double-duty as anti-anxiety medications), and particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Psychotherapy options such as psychodynamics have also been found to offer proven symptom alleviation, particularly from depressive symptoms. And noninvasive medical device treatments, such as deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (Deep TMS™), have been FDA-cleared to treat depression and anxious depression, through patented technology that utilizes electromagnetic fields to safely regulate the brain’s neural activity.
That said, mental health issues that are at least partly caused by climate change also emphasize the urgency of treating the very real issues affecting the planet. It is not wholly a mental health issue when one’s anxiety or depression revolve around an actual threat to their environment, even if the world will be able to sustain human life for a few decades more.
Personal and communal efforts can therefore help negate the effects of climate change and protect the planet. Recycling, joining environmental activism, and also taking in positive and encouraging news on efforts around the globe can motivate and help make a difference. Customers have already begun demanding companies switch to more sustainable, eco-friendly products and services, even at a higher price point. It is through this sea change that gradual progress can be made, and a lasting response to the effects of global warming can begin to take root.