Eco-anxiety: The link between mental health and climate change

The connection between mental health and climate change.
The connection between mental health and climate change. Photo credit: Getty

Millennials are suffering from 'eco-anxiety', research has found.

A poll conducted in the US earlier this year found "negative news stories about the environment" affected the emotiponal wellbeing of 72 percent of Millennials, but only 57 percent of those aged over 45.

And a recent report from the American Psychological Association said Millennials feel stressed and powerless as a result of the current state of the planet and the challenges of saving it, and are facing uncertainty and denial as they try and negotiate how to deal with it. 

It quoted a study saying climate change-related disaster news coverage triggered anxiety in up to 40 percent of people.

The report also looked at how climate change has affected people's general mental health across the world, finding the most high-risk areas being that of indigenous, farming and low-income communities.

How global climate change impacts mental health.
How global climate change impacts mental health. Photo credit: APA

In one particularly extreme case, professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria, Dr Robert Gifford, said a teenage boy in Australia saw the effects of drought where he lived and to avoid contributing to it, he refused to drink water.

"That's kind of the poster child, if you will, for extreme eco-anxiety."

For indigenous communities, the loss of their homes as a result of climate change can mean a loss of tradition and cultural practices and identity.

"In Alaska, for example, some native Alaskans have seen their villages literally vanish due to the thawing permafrost, and others are facing a similar outcome in the near future," the report states.

A closer look at the Inuit people in Canada showed real stress around losing their community.

"We are people of the sea ice. If there's no more sea ice, how can we be people of the sea ice?" one said.

Following natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, 49 percent of people developed an anxiety or mood disorder.

As the effects of climate change get progressively worse, anxieties and stress only gets worse.