Why you should care
Climate change is spawning a mental health crisis. This OZY original series unpacks the phenomenon and the coming fixes.
The unprecedented heat wave burning Europe. Forest fires and ravaged crops. New diseases. Drying lakes and melting snowcaps. The disastrous physical manifestations of climate change are all around us. Increasingly, though, a less recognized but equally significant phenomenon is taking hold: an anxiety epidemic sparked by global warming.
A growing body of research and organizations ranging from the United Nations to the American Psychological Association — the professional body of U.S. psychologists — are concluding that climate change is taking us to the edge of a mental health crisis. With each degree of increase in temperature and every new shift in our traditional environments, humans are becoming more vulnerable to often debilitating mental health conditions. Popular culture is catching up. Season 2 of the HBO hit series Big Little Lies has a key subplot that revolves around children suffering from anxiety after their class discusses “the end of the world” because of climate change.
But no calamity affects everyone equally. And every challenge is also a crossroads that offers potential solutions and the thinkers behind them. OZY’s Mind Melt takes you to the front lines of this latest mental health crisis, with original stories on who will be impacted most, how doctors and communities are preparing for what’s coming next and what you can do.
You might imagine that a sweeping, global phenomenon such as climate change is blind to traditional biases. You couldn’t be more wrong. Women are 60 percent more vulnerable to mental health conditions caused by climate change. And if they’re from poorer communities, that disadvantage gets even further magnified.
Australian ecological philosopher Glenn Albrecht is the man behind the concept of solastalgia — a portmanteau of solace and nostalgia that describes the feeling of mental or existential distress caused by environmental change. It’s an emotion that researchers are increasingly identifying in societies as far apart as Africa and Appalachia, Canada and China. Earlier this year, Albrecht defined the current generation that’s facing climate change as Generation Symbiocene, or Gen S. And he’s throwing them a challenge: curing solastalgia.
Over the past five years, a growing volume of research has demonstrated how changing weather patterns are leading to a ballooning mental health burden for the world, in the form of increasing depression, anxiety, loneliness and more. Yet universities have lagged behind in incorporating the subject into their curricula. That’s finally beginning to change. A growing number of schools are introducing the effects of climate change on mental health as part of their curriculum. The first set of specialists trained in identifying and treating the psychological impact of climate change will soon be with us.
SHE’S BEHIND THE AA FOR CLIMATE CHANGE FEARS
Laura Schmidt grew up with parents who were alcoholics and addicts, and she learned early how organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous work — creating safe spaces where people with a shared suffering can articulate their experiences and struggles and learn from each other through a 12-step process. Now, she’s using the AA approach to help people suffering from climate-change-related anxieties. Good Grief is a one-of-a-kind support group where people can come, speak and figure out solutions to their anxieties about global warming.
THE ALGAE RAINCOAT YOU CAN ALSO EAT
Climate change is leading to droughts in some places and excessive rain in others. If you’re stuck with the latter, and it’s freaking you out, there’s a smart fix that’ll keep you dry — and calm. Researcher Charlotte McCurdy has designed a biodegradable raincoat made out of algae that isn’t just carbon-neutral but can also proactively combat climate change.
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