It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to highlight an often under-discussed issue–and a medical challenge that, too often, isn’t met with the resources, treatment or attention that it deserves. There are so many aspects to securing good mental health, and we want to address just one of them–anxiety related to climate change.
As you can tell from our name, we care deeply not just about today’s communities, but also the next seven generations to come. The next one in particular is the generation we want to address this month. A 2021 survey of 10,000 young people aged 16 to 25 found that 84% were at least somewhat worried. Around half said they felt “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty” and that it affected their daily life. What’s more, according to Phoenix Smith, an ecotherapist who works on anxiety related to climate change, these feelings aren’t just mental–they can manifest as physical. As Smith told NPR last fall, “When you're in the fight-or-flight mode, you're grinding your teeth,” Smith says. “You're holding your body tight.”
This is a challenge that isn’t going to go away, and for some, won’t necessarily get better. Increasing rates and severity of extreme weather, such as drought, heat waves and hurricanes, means the new normal is what will be increasingly normal for this next generation. Or as Smith, who lives in California and has lived through the state’s decades-long drought, puts it, “It's not like, 'Oh, when things get back to normal.' There's no 'normal' to get back to. We are all going to be uncomfortable. So I'm not going to tell you. 'Do this! do that!' No, we all are going to have to learn and find tools to learn to sit with the discomfort.”
So what can we do in the face of such a challenge? Plenty, it turns out! Below we offer five tips and resources to help.
By highlighting successful efforts to tackle climate change, we can help prevent anxiety while making sure to still call out and treat it when you see it.
As you consider how to best observe Mental Health Awareness Month, remember that climate change can be a big contributor to mental health challenges, especially among the next generation. But resources, treatment and hope are out there for you.