As a psychologist, I have observed a rise in climate-related sadness among my clients. This is the advice I give them.
My client expresses their disbelief with a tinge of disappointment, saying, “It’s terrible… and it’s only going to deteriorate further.”
I tend to concur, it is unpleasant.
I sense my palms becoming sweaty as I recall the disastrous weather occurrences I have witnessed recently.
Observing the reality of the climate emergency can be unsettling, but I do not bring this up with my client. My role is to focus on managing what we can control, not adding to their rational worries and fears. This means teaching coping techniques, promoting a connection with nature and others, and directing their sorrow towards sustainable efforts that hold significance.
As someone who works closely with teenagers and young adults, I have once again observed a concerning increase in feelings of anger and hopelessness surrounding the state of our environment this summer. This distress is not stemming from individual experiences or temporary difficulties, but rather from a looming existential threat that grows more pressing with each passing day.
I operate within an eco-psychological perspective, emphasizing the interconnectedness between humans and nature and its effects on one’s identity, health, and overall well-being. These youth understand that humans are not disconnected from nature, but rather a part of it.
Observing the floods and fires occurring in different states has intensified our distress, as we recognize that this is not a fleeting situation, but a harsh glimpse into the bleak future that lies ahead of us for many years.
As a psychologist, it is my responsibility to acknowledge the emotional impact this situation has on my clients. However, it is becoming more challenging to provide comfort as the crisis continues to worsen.
The notion that progress will not occur for several decades greatly burdens young individuals who are inheriting a drastically different world than their parents and older generations.
The thing that concerns me the most is the deep feeling of worry and sadness about the climate that has affected the young individuals I collaborate with. This is caused by their perception that the political leaders and other adults in their lives are not doing enough for them. This can lead to difficulty sleeping, racing thoughts, overthinking, and difficulty paying attention.
Many of the young individuals I assist strongly feel that there is a sense of intergenerational injustice and disloyalty.
The rage they experience is not solely related to current disasters, but also concerns the impending future they will inherit – a world where the security of existence is in jeopardy. A world where safety and stability are only attainable for a small portion of the global population.
What actions can individuals take when they are consumed by feelings of climate despair?
I continuously revisit the idea that there is abundant beauty and vitality in our world that is worth preserving and fighting for. I urge individuals to carefully select what they see on their social media platforms and actively seek out positive news about global efforts towards climate action. I prompt them to imagine a world that is equitable, where all individuals have access to the necessary resources to sustain themselves. I inquire about their present contributions towards this vision and encourage them to take steps towards its realization.
I discuss with them the importance of connecting with individuals who share similar interests and values, as well as getting involved with a nearby climate action organization. I also suggest engaging in nature-based activities such as hiking, swimming, observing wildlife, and participating in beach cleanups and tree planting events. Additionally, I encourage them to consider banking with institutions that do not support fossil fuel projects. I promote mindfulness and living in the moment, as well as using artistic expression and physical movement to cope with feelings of grief, stress, anger, and anxiety.
According to research, climate change will worsen and intensify mental health issues, particularly for young individuals and those from marginalized communities throughout their lives.
The current state of life is becoming increasingly unpredictable as time goes on. The issue of the climate crisis is not limited to a single problem, but rather affects every aspect of human life, including access to food and water, financial stability, and mental health.
As a psychologist, I struggle with the task of equipping young people for an uncertain future filled with unprecedented obstacles, a future influenced by a changing climate.
Carly Dober is a mental health professional residing and operating in Naarm/Melbourne. You can view more of her work on Instagram @enrichinglivespsychology.