The psychological impacts experienced from the consequences of climate change are often subjective to each individual. Psychologically, climate change often creates anxiety or feelings of helplessness when one considers the future state of the world. This feeling has been labelled differently by various researchers but often mean the same thing.
One label for this type of feeling when considering climate change has been labelled Eco-anxiety, which is defined as:
‘Eco-anxiety refers to a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change‘
Whereas, others have addressed it as climate anxiety, stating that:
‘Although climate anxiety appears to be a real phenomenon that deserves clinical attention, it is important to distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive levels of anxiety’
Others have researched into whether taking action locally has a positive impact on the individual in relation to stress and anxiety surrounding climate change. They concluded that it can often lead to three separate outcomes depending on the individual and theoretical perspective one adopts:
‘proximizing can bring about the intended positive effects, can have no (visible) effect or can even backfire‘
Suggesting that finding remedies for climate anxiety appears to be more complex than first assumed, possibly due to the international effort needed to help reduce the rapidly changing climate and the little an individual can do without being in a position of influence.
Clayton et al. has recognised the importance of human behaviour in responding and adapting to climate change, as it is human behaviour which has caused the climate to become so unstable.
They state that human well-being can be affected by climate change in numerous ways:
‘Abrupt environmental events, experienced as natural disasters, will have direct impacts on mental health and quality of life; in addition, indirect impacts will result from gradually evolving and often cumulative environmental stresses on livlihoods, economic opportunity and sociocultural conditions‘
They also recognise that to successfully communicate the risks of climate change and to change human behaviours, it is necessary to:
‘consider individual capabilities, cognitive processes, biases, values, beliefs, norms, identities and social relationships, and to integrate understanding at this level into broader understanding of human intercations with a changing climate’
Similarly, others recognise the three different ways people can be affected by climate change (direct, indirect & psychosocial) but they also provide responses as well. They suggest that the responses for dealing with these impacts include psychological interventions for those impacted directly, promoting emotional resilience and empowerment for those indirectly feeling helpless and acting at system and policy levels to address psychosocial impacts.
This helps identify the different ways someone can be psychology impacted by climate change and suggests appropriate responses in dealing with these issues. Additionally, other researchers have specified more by looking at the psychological impact climate change has on children.
Researchers examining the impact on children (those aged between 12 -25) have identified severe outcomes for children and their mental health but also recognise that this age group are simultaneously impacted by economic and employment concerns.
Burke et al. states:
‘climate change place children at risk of mental health consequences including PTSD, depression, anxiety, phobias, sleep disorders, attachment disorders, and substance abuse. These in turn can lead to problems with emotion regulation, cognition, learning, behavior, language development, and academic performance. Together, these create predispositions to adverse adult mental health outcomes. Children also exhibit high levels of concern over climate change‘
They also recognise that children in developing countries are impacted the most, unfortunately this is also the case with climate change in general where those contributing the least to climate change often suffer the most from it.
The appearance of climate anxiety and an increasingly worried youth demonstrates the seriousness of climate change even at this early stage, although some are still in denial. Solutions to this worry can be solved to help both the individual and the planet. As a previous study suggested, taking climate action can result in reduced stress and anxiety. However, treatment to an individual’s psychology is subjective to that person as is the case with the mental state of an individual. Therapists have recognised that more patients are seeking treatment for climate anxiety, one way this can be treated is with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Simply, this is a way of talking to help manage problems by changing the way you feel, think and act. Therefore, climate change does not only impact our planet but also our mental health, fortunately there are ways to managed both as long as these issues are considered integral to the progression of our societies.