There is widespread acceptance that climate change is happening. It is now however, more common for people to suffer from anxiety and depression related to the effects of global warming on their lives. For example, 9 in 10 people in Greenland, a country where warming impacts are very noticeable, are suffering from Ecological Grief. But everyone else in the world might also experience this if it there is no change in how we treat our planet.
WHAT IS ECOLOGICAL GRIEF?
Until recently we didn’t know how to explain the negative effects of climate change on mental health.
Ecological grief is the suffering and anxiety experienced by people when they lose a beloved ecosystem or environment. Ecological grief links us to our immediate environment which is essential for our well-being, cultural identities, and overall mental health. When someone dies, we grieve over their loss. Similarly, when there are negative changes in the natural environment people grieve this as well. This is because the land, plants, or animals that they have lost used to have a positive impact on their lives.
WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS OF ECOLOGICAL GRIEF?
The symptoms of Ecological grief are either:
- Immediate: Grief or anxiety experienced when in the middle of a natural disaster such as a forest fire or flood.
- Long-term: Feeling a sense of loss from watching shifts in the environment over months, weeks or years. For example, land that was once fertile may no longer be able to produce crops and so the farmer who relies on it has no income.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ECOLOGICAL GRIEF?
Understanding the effects of ecological grief reminds us that climate change is something that has a direct impact on everyone’s daily lives. It reminds us that global warming is an immediate problem. We need to do something not only to save the natural habitats and the species that live in them, but the land that we rely on for agriculture and other activities. This will reduce the negative impacts of climate change on our mental health. Recognising that ecological grief is a valid response to climate change is important in demonstrating how global warming directly impacts humanity. It is surprising how few people are aware of the psychological impact of these negative effects.
The key is to look after the environment we live in. Doing this will not only improve our own mental health but help to reduce the likelihood that future generations experience the same sense of loss.