Dr Kathryn Speedy on eco-distress
25 October, 2021
Next month, US president Joe Biden and other world leaders will descend on Scotland to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference - otherwise known as Cop26.
Climate change and sustainability are certainly hot topics just now. They’re real issues close to people’s hearts.
And ahead of the game is the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales, which will be hosting a virtual conference on these subjects on Friday.
Featuring talks from leading politicians, academics and psychiatrists, the aim is to highlight the mental health impacts of climate change.
But many people reading this article will be wondering what exactly environmental issues has to do with mental health.
Recently the College conducted a survey across the UK, which revealed three in five (60 per cent) people said climate and ecological emergencies are affecting their mental health now and will continue to do so in the future.
Problems such as global warming, fires, drought and animal’s habitats being destroyed are issues which some of us really care about, but they are issues that can affect your mental health.
The wide range of emotions and thoughts people may experience when they hear bad news about our planet and the environment is called eco distress – also known as eco-anxiety.
It isn’t a mental illness or diagnosis and feeling stressed about such matters is completely normal. In some ways it shows people actually do care about our natural habitat.
But sometimes these feelings can be difficult to deal with. It can range from experiencing low mood, helplessness, anger and a lack of sleep to panic and guilt. It affects people of all ages.
The pandemic certainly hasn’t helped, but there are things we can all do to help overcome these feelings.
As a psychiatrist my advice would be to take small steps to help you feel more in control and hopeful.
Open conversations with others who have an interest in climate issues. Get out into the world and experience your local environment at first hand, go walking, start a community group, keep talking or why not do a bit of fundraising for an environmental charity of your choosing?
These little actions can really help to make yourself feel better about things that can sometimes feel way out of our control.
But what would we like to see the powers-that-be do about it? In our own manifesto for the recent Senedd election we called for the Welsh Government to look at the positive and negative impacts on people’s mental health when making decisions about climate change, energy and transport.
We also said politicians should make wellbeing at the heart of their budget. To put it frankly, spending should be based on quality of life not GDP.
Our members also wanted to highlight the role medical professionals can make in climate and ecological emergencies.
Other groups have also been calling for action to ensure a healthy climate is central to Covid-19 recovery plans and put health at the heart of the climate change debate.
Finally, when getting involved in the climate change debate, there is one thing we should never forget about – the younger generation.
That’s why young people will also be attending our virtual conference this week. We need to be able to have open conversations and really listen to them.
Empowering this age group to engage with constructive, positive action, should absolutely be supported - because after all - they hold the key to our future planet.
You can find more tips on the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ eco distress pages aimed at young people: Eco distress - for young people | Royal College of Psychiatrists by clicking here.
Dr Speedy is higher trainee in child and adolescent psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales and representative on the College’s Planetary Health and Sustainability Committee.