Sunday, February 28, 2016

Climate and mental health

“People may, indeed, suffer from anxiety about climate change but not know it. They will have a vague unease about what is happening around them, the changes they see in nature, the weather events and the fact that records are being broken month after month. But they won’t be sufficiently aware of the source, and furthermore, we all conflate and layer one anxiety upon another.”

Living on a warming world is bad for your mental health. For climate scientists, environmentalists and those who have lived through climate-related extreme events, the impacts are often quite conscious. For many others, there is a deep unease lying not too far below the surface.

Awakening to climate change has affected my own mood considerably over the last eight or nine years. I have spent long periods of time depressed, angry, anxious and grieving. My thesis topic looking at emotional responses to climate change was prompted by both my own experience and the testimony of many people I know well who have started to take climate change seriously.

Finding resources to cope and reasons to keep going when we know worse is on its way will only become more important as the century progresses. My hunch has been that the gospel of Jesus, the community of the church and Christian practices of discipleship and spirituality may have a constructive role to play for some people. Not that these "cure" mental distress, but that they can shed new light on uncomfortable emotional experiences and keep open the possibility of creative action amidst bleak situations.
Image by Loic Venance (AFP/Getty Images). Waves breaks against a pier and a lighthouse during high winds in Les Sables-d'Olonne, western France, on February 9, 2016