Psychiatrist? Environmentalist? How core training helps me be both
01 November, 2021
Dr Liam Embliss
I didn’t always want to be a psychiatrist; I was going to study Environmental Science, hoping to add technical knowledge to the green values instilled in me by my family. At school, geography classes covered the polar ice caps melting and our teenage minds were steered towards a climate threat in the future. Fast-forward a decade and the scene has dramatically shifted. I’m a psychiatry trainee working in the context of a worldwide climate crisis.
The power of education
In this crisis, Greta Thunberg’s School Strike for Climate movement is inspirational. I admire her thirst for knowledge and ability to turn depressing data into emotive viral speeches. Greta is a student and an educator, and I think this underpins the success of her activism. While I’ve not made the front page of TIME magazine, I have realised that these same qualities are encouraged and developed during psychiatry training, and I can harness them to contribute to the planetary cause.
The curriculum for psychiatry training places great emphasis on education; it’s brilliant how much time is given for this. In a standard week as a core trainee, I’ll spend two afternoons attending teaching and have two supervision sessions. Add in study leave, simulation sessions and resources online, and I truly feel like I’m always learning.
There is flexibility in the training to allow for personal interests to be explored. Using study leave, I’ve attended a CAMHS faculty conference on the climate crisis and mental health where I learned about emerging phenomena like eco-distress. At the RCPsych International Congress, I felt empowered and educated after a session from activist psychiatrists.
In core training, opportunities to teach are also rife. Presentations to colleagues are an opportunity to share your passions. At a journal club, I presented research linking childhood psychiatric morbidity to pollution exposure in east London. After the session, a group of colleagues wrote to their local MPs, expressing these public health concerns and applying pressure ahead of an Environment Bill review – advocacy in action!
A strong psychiatric community
I’m not alone as a climate-concerned clinician. It was brilliant to see the Royal College of Psychiatrists declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency this year. At conferences and in the Twittersphere, I’ve seen that I’m surrounded by colleagues who are researching how mental health is affected by climate, discussing environmental data and policy, and organising action.
I also notice that psychiatrists’ skills - such as communication, holistic formulation and out-of-the-box thinking – are valuable when approaching this complex and existential challenge.
The climate crisis is a healthcare crisis; it’s already affecting people’s mental health as well as – in some parts of the world – their very existence. I am glad to be part of a psychiatric community that is motivated and skilled to respond.