Business Standard

Climate change is fuelling a new type of anxiety

- OLIVIA RUDGARD & JACK WITTELS 16 February

When psychother­apist Caroline Hickman was asked to help a child overcome a fear of dogs, she introduced them to her Labradoodl­e, Murphy.

“You get the child to feel confident in relation to the dog and teach the child skills to manage a dog,” she says. “You build the skills, build the competence, build the confidence, and then they’re less scared of dogs generally.”

Climate anxiety is a different beast, Hickman says. “We don’t 100 per cent know how to deal with it. And it would be a huge mistake to try and treat it like other anxieties that we are very familiar with that have been around for decades. This one is much, much worse.”

In the most critical cases, climate anxiety disrupts the ability to function day to day. Children and young people in this category feel alienation from friends and family, distress when thinking about the future and intrusive thoughts about who will survive, according to Hickman’s research. Patients obsessivel­y check for extreme weather, read climate change studies and pursue radical activism.

Some, devastatin­gly, consider suicide as the only solution. And Hickman isn’t the only expert seeing this. In her book A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, Sarah Ray describes a student who had such severe “self-loathing eco-guilt” that she stopped consuming much at all, including food. Most people’s concern about global warming isn’t that pronounced. It can be difficult to pin down exactly what climate anxiety is, and therefore what to do about it. Especially for adults, there’s still a stigma in admitting that it’s severely affecting your life. But therapists report they are grappling with a rise in demand from clients who say climate change is having a profound effect on their mental health, and studies suggest the angst is increasing­ly widespread. Existing profession­al methods for dealing with anxiety aren’t always suitable in these situations. For the counseling community, the situation calls for a new playbook.

In 2021, a study of 10,000 children and young people in 10 countries, co-authored by Hickman and published in The Lancet Planetary Health, found that 59 per cent were very or extremely worried about climate change and more than 45 per cent said it had a negative effect on their daily life. A survey of mental health profession­als in the UK, published last year in The Journal of Climate Change and Health, found that they perceived “significan­tly more” patients describing climate change as a factor in their mental health or emotional distress, an increase the participan­ts expected to continue.

 ?? ILLUSTRATI­ON: BINAY SINHA ?? According to Lancet Planetary Health study, more than 45 per cent children said climate change had a negative effect on their daily life
ILLUSTRATI­ON: BINAY SINHA According to Lancet Planetary Health study, more than 45 per cent children said climate change had a negative effect on their daily life

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