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Ecoanxiety: understand how climate change impacts mental health

In the face of extreme weather events, such as recent heat waves and floods that victimized thousands of families in Rio Grande do Sul, a new term seeks to characterize anxieties related to the environment: ecoanxiety . Also called “climate anxiety “, the term has already been incorporated by the Oxford dictionary and is defined by the American Psychological Association as “chronic fear of environmental catastrophe “.

“Ecoanxiety is a new term, it didn’t exist before, but with this increased frequency of environmental catastrophes, this neologism was created”, explains Marcos Gebara, specialist in clinical psychiatry and president of the Psychiatric Association of the State of Rio de Janeiro, to CNN .

The psychiatrist explains that, despite being a recent term, many people already use it to refer to anxieties related to recent climate change . In fact, concerns about the environment and recent climate disasters have arisen in Gebara's clinical practice. “Nowadays, with massive floods, much greater than the previous ones, people are traumatized and rightly so,” he says.

What is ecoanxiety?

The term ecoanxiety began to be used in the ecopsychology literature in the 1990s. However, in light of recent climate changes, the topic is gaining greater prominence.

A study published in 2021 in the scientific journal The Lancet Planet Healthcarried out with more than 10 thousand children and young people (between 16 and 25 years old) from ten countries, including Brazil, showed that concern about climate change was common among those interviewed.

According to the survey, 59% said they were very or extremely worried with climate change; 89% were at least moderately concerned. More than 50% of respondents reported each of the following concerns: sadness, anxiety, anger, helplessness, helplessness, and guilt. More than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change have negatively affected their daily lives.

Furthermore, 75% of respondents said they think the future is scary and 83% said they think people have failed to take care of the planet. “There is an urgent need for more research into the emotional impact of climate change on children and young people and for governments to validate their distress by taking urgent action on climate change,” the authors wrote in the study.

Social media and the news can increase climate anxiety

From Gebara's point of view, the climate anxiety It can be enhanced by the news and social media, as they lead to an excess of information about adverse climate-related events. “Obviously, those who suffer directly from these events feel this anxiety much worse, but those who are following the situation from afar also suffer a lot,” he says.

The president of CRPRS (Regional Psychology Council of Rio Grande do Sul), Miriam Alves, reinforces, in an article previously published in CNN , that environmental catastrophes, such as floods in RS, can negatively and indirectly impact people other than flood victims. “We live in a situation where we are all being affected, in different ways,” he says.

The president of CRPRS explains that, in these cases, mental health care also involves active listening on the part of professionals.

“Those who are safe should also be able to talk about it. You can't ignore what's happening. Putting these feelings into words is fundamental for society as a whole, so that it is even possible to build strategies to minimize these impacts in the future, because we are experiencing a situation that, unfortunately, will repeat itself”, he adds.

How to mitigate the impacts on mental health?

With climate change and recurring extreme events, ways to alleviate eco-anxiety may include, in addition to seeking reliable sources on these topics, practical help. “For example, in the case of RS, it is possible to help victims by making donations. The act of helping greatly alleviates the anxiety generated by the images”, suggests Gebara.

Furthermore, it is important to seek reliable sources of information on the subject and avoid sharing fake news or sensationalist news about the subject.

In cases where distress may be impacting quality of lifeseeking professional help is essential such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Source: CNN Brasil

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