Experts are concerned about the mental health of younger generations that have been particularly affected by the reality of the climate crisis.
“Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope,” said the young environmental activist, Greta Thunberg. “I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and then I want you to act. “
Over the past few years, bad news regarding climate change has become part of the routine. The devastating images of the planet’s environmental degradation have led many viewers to experience feelings of anguish, anger, fear, outrage and exhaustion. Experts place this phenomenon under the heading of ‘eco-anxiety, which refers to persistent worries about the future of Earth and the life it shelters.
The increasingly alarming information about the thaw, the rise in sea level and the scourge of extreme weather events indirectly unleashes a spectrum of emotions that can range from discomfort to existential anguish. In one of the first studies on the issue, the American Psychological Association (APA) recalls that, although eco-anxiety is not recognized as a medical condition, it could manifest itself through physical discomfort, panic attacks, anxiety towards other things, insomnia, depression, among others.
Experts agree that the origin of eco-anxiety comes mainly from the feeling of guilt and anguish that is generated by the frequent new information about climate change and the little social and political action in favor of it.
A survey published in September 2021 consulted 10,000 young people around the world and found that almost 60% were very or extremely concerned about climate change. However, eco-anxiety is still considered a relatively new phenomenon and that is why it has been so difficult for experts to know how to react and provide help to patients.
Ramiro Serna, a Miami-based therapist, recalls that the first time a patient came to his office expressing his fear of climate change, he felt helpless because he did not know exactly how to diagnose and treat the patient.
From that moment on, Serna began to investigate more about eco-anxiety not only to help his patient but to understand how climate change had become a focus of constant concern for young people.
“After understanding what all this was about, I questioned myself about the work that as psychologists we have to give more visibility to this matter,” he said. “This is about helping patients but also raising awareness, not just about mental disorders, but about climate change.”
Experts emphasize that this phenomenon can affect anyone. However, women, children, adolescents and people who depend directly on natural resources, such as fishermen and farmers, are most at risk of suffering from this disorder.
The best way to respond to any symptoms is to seek professional help.
“I think getting sick also helps us heal,” said Serna, “Eco-anxiety is a wake-up call. I think it would be more worrying not to respond in any way to the situation on the planet.”