The scope of the threat of climate change is widening. In addition to our planet, climate change is disrupting our mental health and emotional well-being.
A report by the American Psychological Association found that even beyond the trauma associated with extreme weather, "gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including, fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, and exhaustion," reports NBC News.
We see the effects of climate change all around us: rising carbon dioxide levels, drought, food shortages, rising sea levels, flooding, and a higher frequency of devastating natural disasters. When what we see is coupled with the disheartening scientific reports, many begin to develop what experts call climate grief, which is pretty much what it sounds like. It's the anxieties and depression that surround climate change.
The numbers of people affected by climate-related anxiety is on the rise.
An earlier Yale survey shows that 62% of participants said they were "somewhat" worried when it comes to climate. That number is up from 49% in 2010. The number of those who claimed to be "very" worried was 21%, which is double the rate of a similar study conducted in 2015.
Washington-based psychiatrist Dr. Lise Van Susteren, cofounder of Climate Psychiatry Alliance, says climate change is causing many patients great distress.
"For a long time we were able to hold ourselves in a distance, listening to data and not being affected emotionally," she told NBC News. "But it's not just a science abstraction anymore. I'm increasingly seeing people who are in despair, and even panic."
Click here to listen to a recent interview KUOW conducted with Van Susteren about climate change and mental health.
The age of 'Solastalgia'
There's another name for climate grief. It's called solastalgia. Solastalgia was coined by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, who talks about it in the video above.
"It was important to give that feeling a name because it was missing from our language," Albrecht told Ozy in a feature story about his work.
The concept of solastalgia originates back to the early 2000s when Albrecht was a professor at the University of Newcastle in Callaghan, Australia. During his tenure in Callaghan, Albrecht had an interest in local affairs. Members of the Upper Hunter Valley community came to him to discuss the prevalence of open-coal mining in the area. Albrecht and two colleagues, Linda Connor and Nick Higginbotham, interviewed more than 100 community members and found that many were experiencing symptoms of what would soon be termed solastalgia.
Solastalgia as a concept didn't make much of a splash beyond the mental health and environmental communities, but now that the public openly acknowledges the relationship between climate change and mental health, solastalgia is being taken more seriously. Researchers have seen communities suffering from solastalgia in specific communities in places such as Africa, Appalachia, Canada and China.
The aforementioned Yale survey found that as far as climate-related fears go, 65% of participants "never" or "rarely" speak about it.
"It's culturally acceptable to talk about all kinds of anxieties, but not the climate," Van Susteren, said to NBC News. "People need to talk about their grief. When you do nothing, it just gets worse." Luckily, there are plenty of people out there starting to discuss the emotional damages of climate change.
In order to help individuals and communities, Aimee Reua and LaUra Schmidt created the Good Grief Network, a support group with a 10-step program designed specifically to combat grief associated with climate change.
Group meetings are held over a 10-week period, and Good Grief Network branches are located in New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. Branches will soon be popping up in Davis, California; Vermont, British Columbia, Canada, and Melbourne, Australia. You can even set up a local branch in your area yourself. The group has e-manuals that can be emailed to you upon donation.
Therapist Agnieszka Wolska of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, is a member of the Eco-Grief Support Circle. The group meets twice a month as a place where locals can speak openly about eco-grief.
"Together we have less individual despair. We can just have connection instead of fear or just sadness," Wolska told The Christian Science Monitor.
In Alberta, climate change and any related grief are touchy subjects. Not only has Alberta experienced a number of natural disasters — major floods in 2013 and a wildfire in 2016 — but the fossil fuel industry is a huge part of Alberta's economy, which makes grappling with grief or even acknowledging climate change all the more difficult.
"I think there's a lot of fear around using these terms because there's a sense you might be judged," Wolska said. "Because if I say I'm experiencing eco-grief, what [people assume] I'm really saying is that I am not supportive of the industries that gave me my high quality-of-life. So I think there are these kinds of entanglements of grief and guilt and hypocrisy and fear of judgment that get wrapped up in the context of Alberta."
Albrecht's approach to tackling solastalgia is a little different than local support groups. He's thinking more broadly — and a little more politically. In his new book "Earth Emotions," Albrecht calls for the formation of a society that coexists with the natural world. This society is called the Symbiocene. As Albrecht sees it, it's time for younger generations to fight against the governments and huge corporations that fail to protect nature.
However you decide to cope with solastalgia is up to you. Just know know that if climate change is taking a toll on your mental health, you aren't alone.