Climate change is compromising a lot of people’s mental health.
According to one survey conducted in April 2021, 74 per cent of Canadians reported being worried about climate change. In another survey of 1,534 Canadians in November 2020, in response to the question, “Do you think the state of the environment for the next generation will be better, worse, or about the same as today?” the majority of people, especially within the youngest group of respondents aged 18–24, answered “worse.”
So if you are distressed or anxious about climate change, you are certainly not alone, though the lack of attention this issue gets might understandably have you believe that you are.
For some people, there’s a word for these feelings that may be applicable: eco-anxiety, which the American Psychological Association defines as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”
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Below, Farah Shroff, a fellow in the Takemi Program in International Health at Harvard University, explains what eco-anxiety is and how, for racialized people, the issue is compounded by environmental racism.
I’m a Takemi fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, specifically in the area of international health. So I do work in global health.
There’s something called eco-anxiety. It’s a terrible new phenomenon, which is impacting particularly people in their 20s and 30s and younger. Eco-anxiety has to do with the understanding that the earth is being destroyed, particularly by the generations in power right now, and that there will be very little left to inherit as an earth.
Eco-anxiety is a mental health diagnosis. People are now talking about it as a mental health diagnosis. And then of course, there’s despair, which then also leads to depression.
Both anxiety and depression comes from the environmental crisis we’re experiencing. And then in terms of environmental racism — racism, in general, produces something called weathering. And weathering is essentially a form of chronic stress. It’s this idea that you’re always looking behind your back, you’re always sort of wondering what could possibly go wrong because things have gone wrong so many times.
The number one health impact of weathering is depression. But there are other impacts on heart and blood pressure and things like that. But depression is the number one impact of weathering. So racism has a very direct consequence on many communities of colour.
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