Report: Mental Health Concern over ‘Climate Despair’ Sweeps Nation

School children hold placards and shout slogans as they participate in a protest outside t
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Some people are so upset over climate change they are suffering from mental health concerns considered “climate despair,” a new Washington Post report said.

The devastating and deadly Hurricane Ida has energized activists, including the Post, which published a lengthy piece that claims “more people than ever could experience serious challenges to their mental health as a result” of climate change.

The Post reported on what it refers to as “climate despair”:

New methods for addressing these challenges are emerging in the United States, though some experts believe a surge in mental health issues related to climate change could overwhelm the system — leading them to consider how to radically remake it.

The Post cited heat warnings, wildfires, and floods in recent years as proof of climate change, which is “suddenly feeling a lot more real for many Americans who have not seen it up close until now, clinicians say, leading many to seek one-on-one therapy.”

The Post report continues:

A nonprofit organization called the Good Grief Network, a 10-step program inspired by the structure of Alcoholics Anonymous whose meetings provide “social and emotional support to people who feel overwhelmed about the state of the world,” says it has reached over a thousand people in four years. Steps in the program range from accepting “the severity of the predicament” to reinvesting “into meaningful efforts.”

Young adults are among the groups most vulnerable to feelings of depression and anxiety related to climate change, said Leslie Davenport, a climate psychology educator and consultant who is a member of a directory of climate-aware therapists.

“Mental health professionals help people face reality, because we know living in denial can ruin a person’s life,” Lise Van Susteren wrote in a report by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica. “As the climate crisis unfolds, we see people whose anger, anxiety, and depression, caused by the shortcomings of a previous generation, prevent them from leading productive lives themselves,”

Van Susteren is also the founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance.

The Post also interviewed Katharine Wilkinson, an author and strategist who co-edited an anthology on fighting climate change called All We Can Save.

Wilkinson said that over the past year more than 600 people have signed up to lead book discussion groups she started “as an outlet for climate grief, signaling a growing demand for climate-related support in group formats.”

And Daniel Masler, a therapist in Washington, said in the Post report that requests for climate-related treatment at his practice has grown.

“We’ve been for so long in social denial,” Masler said. “Now, with the smoke drifting all the way back East and the phenomenal fluctuations in temperature, people can’t deny it anymore.”

“Therapy sessions can allow people a space to relieve their stresses through disclosure and reflect on what they can do to slow the earth’s warming, which can also be alleviating,” the Post report said.

The Post story said “some studies” show that climate despair increases the risk of suicide or hospitalization for mood and behavioral disorders.

Gary Belkin, a psychiatrist and founder of the Billion Minds Institute and a visiting scientist at Harvard’s School of Public Health, said in the Post report that he believes the mental health sector will overwhelmed by the need to treat people for climate-related issues.

“We are all psychologically unprepared to face the accelerating existential crisis of climate and ecological change that will further deepen other destructive fault lines in our society,” Belkin wrote in Psychiatric News in February. “The future will extract enormous social and emotional costs and suffering and require enormous social and emotional strengths to combat. We must sound that alarm and put our own house in order.”

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