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Ecogrief: How Climate Change Affects Our Mental Health

First coined by Aldo Leopold in  the 1940s, the concept of ecological grief is used to refer to the way that the destruction and loss of environment can affect our mental health. For Glen Albrecht, an Australian philosopher, the term is ‘solastalgia.’ Whether solastalgia, eco-guilt, eco-anxiety, or eco-grief, these concepts are all used to describe the same thing:

The grief associated with a loss of environment due to climate change.

Associate Professor Amy Lykins is a researcher in the School of Psychology at UNE. Together with her colleague Suzanne Cosh, A/Prof Amy Lykins conducted a study in rural Fiji, looking at the effects of climate change on mental health.

Indigenous groups are disproportionately affected, but Amy explains that studies looking at the impacts of climate change on mental health have to be conducted in a meaningful way.

“You’ve got to have exactly the right sort of connections to be able to do this work and I don’t want to come in, you know, a bunch of white American Australian people not meaningfully interacting with communities and understanding what their needs and desires are.”

Unfortunately, there’s a gap between mental health needs, and what is available to these communities. In order to responsibly provide mental health support, researchers need to be culturally informed, and work with these groups.

“Importantly, that can’t be, again, white people coming in with Western understandings of mental illness and not looking at that through a culturally responsive lens.”

For people who are experiencing distress and fear over climate change, it’s important to talk about it. Amy suggests finding someone with a climate aware approach to psychology.

“Be kind to yourself, really. Like, these are big problems that we’re all sort of working on and trying to fix and all suffering from. And yeah, just sort of recognising that collectively, we’re all in this together and taking some solace from that.”

If you are struggling with feelings of distress, you can find support through Beyond Blue, Lifeline, or 13 YARN.

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash