Climate Anxiety Emerges as a Clinical Condition

October 28, 2019


RUMSON, N.J. (Reuters) – On a rainy night in the basement lounge of a church, five people sat in a circle and nibbled on snacks as they talked about their personal struggles.

They had not come to discuss alcoholism, drug addiction or gambling. This was the first meeting of a 10-week peer support program designed to help people suffering from anxiety or depression about climate change.

“Part of what causes me the anxiety is that so few people recognize the problem,” said David Frette, a 52-year-old dog groomer and stay-at-home dad who came to the meeting in this seaside town after seeing a flyer. “When you have scientists saying we have 10 years to enact political measures, how do you think about saving for your daughter’s college fund?”

Dr. Kate Marvel on Twitter:

Nobody deserves climate change. It’s not happening because humans are fundamentally bad, or because someone, somewhere, is having fun. It’s happening because atmospheric CO2 levels have increased over 45% since the industrial revolution.

We did that. We can stop doing it. The atmosphere cares about chemistry, not guilt.

Reuters again:

A growing number of people in the United States, Australia, Canada and Britain are seeking out climate anxiety support groups as they come to terms with ominous scientific reports of global warming, according to support group leaders. Some psychologists say the trend indicates a growing need for mental healthcare specific to climate change.

In a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists estimated it may take as few as 11 years for Earth’s temperature to rise to an irreversible tipping point if global carbon emissions are not substantially cut.

“People feel isolated. Business as usual keeps going almost without any worry about what happens on the climate change front,” said LaUra Schmidt, co-founder of the climate anxiety support group network to which the New Jersey group belongs.

Schmidt and Aimee Lewis-Reau started the Good Grief Network in 2016 for people suffering from anxiety over climate change. Neither one is a psychologist, and they do not claim to provide counseling. The first peer support group met in a participant’s living room in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Since then, Schmidt and Lewis-Reau have honed their 10-step program in the model of Alcoholics Anonymous and are now focused on expanding the organization by training new facilitators.

Climate change, including more severe weather events, warmer temperatures and rising sea levels, is already having harmful effects on mental health, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The effects are likely to worsen, especially in vulnerable populations such as children, migrants, and people already living with mental illness.

Research has confirmed such impacts of climate disasters on mental health as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in wildfire survivors, but there is not sufficient research on anxiety and depression resulting from general awareness of climate change, according to several mental health experts.

The APA does not classify “climate anxiety” as a disorder.

Joe Ruzek, a psychologist who specializes in trauma and has trained mental health experts to treat survivors of California wildfires with PTSD, said climate anxiety was justified but cautioned against viewing it as a unique mental illness. He added that it needed further study.

“Probably we should not be labeling these all as disorders when they could be stress reactions,” Ruzek said in a phone interview.

Some members of climate anxiety support groups have been affected by natural disasters, but most join out of a sense of despair, Schmidt said.

For an example of what not to do, this interview with an over-eager energy scold is an exhibit.  Rather than taking individuals to task for one or more energy wasting habit, take care of your own use as you see fit, and get active with your representatives to create societal-wide change.

She is right that talking about climate with your friends and family is a good idea.

5 Responses to “Climate Anxiety Emerges as a Clinical Condition”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    I didn’t know there was a step between denial and thinking personal changes would be enough to stop Warmageddon. But here we are, with someone who thinks it’s a good idea to make someone stop one tiny way they’re wasting while turning them into a resentful lifelong enemy of conservation. 1 step forward, a 2-step back.

  2. I notice it’s First World countries who have the anxiety over climate change. People in the Second and Third world are just living with the consequences.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Many more people in poor countries and areas suffer the effects and much more severely; they just aren’t diagnosed with them because they lack the medical care, mental health care, or see diagnoses differently.

  3. grindupbaker Says:

    Dr. Kate Marvel “It’s not happening because humans are fundamentally bad, or because someone, somewhere, is having fun”. So Kate is even newer to this than I am and there’s a substantial list of humanses’ names that she’s never heard of.

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