Climate change might be melting the ice caps, but our fear of environmental armageddon has manifested into a legitimate disorder.



At the recent Climate Action Summit (the one we weren’t invited to), the UK’s business secretary Alok Sharma noted that we’re still nowhere near the targets set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Sharma said: “ will ask ‘Have we done enough to put the world on track to limit warming to 1.5C and protect people and nature from the effects of climate change?’ We must be honest with ourselves – the answer to that is currently no.”

Sharma noted: “The choices we make in the year ahead will determine whether we unleash a tidal wave of climate catastrophe on generations to come.”

Clearly, we weren’t invited, due to our lowballing of the United Nations, and perhaps indirectly, because we’re increasingly a nation of climate deniers. Yet, we’ve enabled an environmental apocalypse, one that will surely see the seas rise, boil and wash all over our shit is a terror that we’re not prepared to face, both in a literal sense, and a mental one.

Psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren coined the term “pre-traumatic stress disorder” to describe the pervasive dread felt by many scientists, advocates and journalists. In the years ahead, she said, the problem will only grow more widespread.

Van Susteren is the co-author a 2012 report on the psychological risks of the carbon crisis. Like other studies on climate change and mental health, the report warns of anxiety, depression, violence, suicide and drug abuse in the face of increasingly perilous storms, heat waves, floods and drought.

As the authors noted, “The American mental health community, counsellors, trauma specialists and first responders are not even close to being prepared to handle the scale and intensity of impacts that will arise from the harsher conditions and disasters that global warming will unleash.”

In response to our growing climate of angst, a handful of psychotherapists are pioneering a new field of treatment, termed “ecopsychology.” Doctors are going green with ennui, urging their patients to accept their own powerlessness, and take as many breaks from society as possible.

There seems to be a clash and a sense of the difference between the death that will inevitably come to us all, and the same death that we’ve sort of enabled. This is especially the case in the wake of a natural disaster, as Hurricane Maria sparked a mental health crisis in Puerto Rico, with many suffering instances of PTSD. In fact, after many years of decline, the suicide rate spiked in the months after Maria.

People were shaken by the catastrophic storm, but that they had become increasingly fearful about the future, often to the point of mental paralysis.

As Claire Harris noted for The Big Smoke, “Climate anxiety is a growing phenomenon, particularly among young people, and one that therapists aren’t equipped to deal with. I have always had a tendency towards catastrophic thinking, but in this case, the catastrophe is real. My therapist’s approach to anxiety (as with most therapists) is to help me accept things the way they are, instead of letting them stress me out. The problem is that this can’t be applied to the climate emergency. It’s like telling me to put global heating on a leaf and float it down the river.”

Professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, Ohio, Susan Clayton, co-authored a 2017 report titled Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. She says: “We can say that a significant proportion of people are experiencing stress and worry about the potential impacts of climate change and that the level of worry is almost certainly increasing.”




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