The Truth About Climate Grief and Mental Health

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The effects of climate change can be seen from coast to coast, but what is climate grief and how is it affecting your client’s mental health? Although climate grief is only in the early ages of studying, we can still learn from the information that’s available and what it says about the future of mental health.

The Reality of a Dying Planet

Climate change has been in the news since the early 2000s and on scientists’ radar since before the 18th century. By now, many are aware of the changing climate and its global effect on humanity. Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, and the animal kingdom is facing a mass extinction event, all escalated by human-made pollution.

Recent news has brought to the world’s attention that things might be a lot worse than we originally thought. According to NOAA, 2020 was the second warmest year on record across the globe. NOAA also predicts that by 2100, the global temperature could increase between 2-9 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature increase could have major consequences for our planet, including extreme weather events like droughts, flooding, and heatwaves.

There are plenty of scary realities about climate change, causing climate change activists, climate scientists, nature enthusiasts, and many other people great concern. Collectively, there are overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and anxiety about climate change that can become detrimental to a person’s mental health.

Ecological Grief and Climate Anxiety

Climate grief, also known as ecological grief, is a psychological response to the loss caused by climate change or the destruction of the environment. This term is still very new to researchers and is currently being studied. However, many climate scientists, activists, and others have reported symptoms that are very similar to those for any other type of grief.

People with climate grief might feel hopeless, depressed, or anxious. They might struggle with sleeping or constantly worry about the future. People who feel “eco-anxiety” might also feel anger or frustration at those who don’t take climate change seriously. They might feel guilt or shame for what they have personally contributed to pollution. They might feel sadness and grief over environmental loss due to the effects of climate change and pollution. These are very real feelings, which have led to the interest in researching this type of grief.

What Can Professionals Expect For The Future?

The reality is that more people are likely to feel climate grief in the future. Climate change has already impacted populations across the planet, and natural disasters affected us here in the United States and across the globe. People who are forced to relocate because of drought, flooding, storms, and other types of natural destruction experience unprecedented trauma. The overabundance of news coverage can also contribute to the overall anxiety that people might feel about the state of their planet.

Therapy professionals will need to consider how the changing climate (and the 24/7 news coverage that comes along with it) can affect the mental health of their clients. From doom scrolling on social media to catastrophizing when things aren’t that dire yet, therapy professionals will need to be both empathetic and realistic about where their clients stand on climate grief. It’s all too easy for clients to become caught up in the what-ifs of what seems like an otherwise grim future, instead of focusing on what they are able to do now.

How Your Clients Can Cope

One of the best ways for a client to cope with climate change is to come to terms with what is and what isn’t in their control. In recovery treatment, the First Step of the 12-Step program asks your client to admit that they are powerless. The same is true on a global scale with climate change – one person cannot possibly fight it alone. Your client is far more likely to make a greater impact in their own part of the world.

Inaction can make a person feel helpless, so encourage your clients who are experiencing climate grief to be active in their communities. While they are realistically limited on a global scale, grassroots activism can help them make an impact on the local level in the event of a food shortage, natural disaster, or other climate-related issues. Educating others about the reality of climate change and how the community can help by working together can make a difference not only environmentally, but emotionally.

As our world changes, our mental health needs change along with it. Climate grief may be a newer addition to the mental health arena, but it’s one that will likely impact us for years to come.

There are many people who don’t believe that the effects of climate change are catastrophic or might even completely deny that climate change exists, despite what they hear in news reports. However, there’s a growing number of people who not only believe that climate change will bring serious consequences for our future, but they feel devastated about it. Climate grief is not completely new, but the recognition of how it can affect our mental health is just starting to be investigated. While new data comes out every day, therapy professionals must consider how this global problem affects their clients, especially if they care deeply about their planet or have been personally affected by climate change. Here at Jaywalker Lodge, we are as passionate about the environment as we are about our community. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, nature plays a huge role in our 12-Step recovery program. To learn more, call us now at (866) 529-9255


author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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