I first came across what’s now commonly known as eco-anxiety or climate anxiety about two years ago during my time working as a therapist at the Tom Allan Centre in Glasgow, Scotland.
I was in the staff room reading a newspaper article about a group of students in their early-20s who had become chronically anxious, caused by a continuing fear of climate change. It was impacting their mental, emotional and general wellbeing.
Fast forward to 2021 and eco-anxiety is now an ever growing phenomenon, with a recent survey of 10,000 young people from across the globe finding 75% of respondents fearing for the future.
The BACP’s annual Public Perceptions Survey this year found that 60% of people in the UK say that climate change has had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. For 16 to 24 year-olds, the figure was 73%.
As we look ahead to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) beginning in my home city of Glasgow on October 31, the worldwide debate regarding the full impact of climate change and how to seriously combat it continues to rage.
What’s not up for debate however is the extent to which eco-anxiety is becoming an increasingly debilitating condition.
In my private practice, about 50% of the case load are students and that’s where I predominantly witness the impact of eco-anxiety with my own eyes.
It’s often said that therapists learn more from working with their clients than they do in counselling training.
I’ve certainly become a more informed counselling practitioner through the work I do with clients.
And, thanks to my clients, I’ve also become far more climate-literate.
No one is perfect (certainly not me) but I’m sure we can all do our bit to help mitigate the impact of climate change.
And on a professional basis I’m increasingly trying to help ease the impact of eco-anxiety. But it’s something I believe we can all do.
I listened to a great Podcast earlier this year called The Climate Crisis is a Psychological Crisis.
In it Heather White, founder of One Green Thing, went into some detail about eco-anxiety – which has merged with other anxieties relating to income inequality, racial inequality, social and environmental injustices as well as concerns regarding cultural wars between climate deniers and anxious realists.
How this can play out from a psychological point of view can be through a fear of being abandoned by some of the less informed older generation and policy makers.
Indeed, the way climate-illiterate people are responding (or not) to those with genuine climate concerns is a contributing factor to the rise of eco-anxiety.
When those concerns are voiced, the feelings and views are often minimised or brushed aside. They are simply not being heard.
This is leading to a troubling sense of isolation, loss, fear, frustration, anger, powerlessness, rejection as well as distrust.
Stephen R Convey once said that the biggest communication problem we have is we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.
Maybe if we listened more to understand, with empathy, we could all help to play our part to lessen the impact of eco-anxiety, whilst educating ourselves at the same time.
And, of course, it would also help if we continued to make some climate-informed lifestyle changes as well.
Now, go and turn off that light.
Resources and further reading.