Climate change isn’t breaking news. For young people, warnings of the end times and ecological disasters are constant. For many Gen Z students, they’ve been told since childhood that climate change is going to be the end of the world.
It turns out, experiencing a constant barrage of negative messaging about the environment can have harmful effects on one’s mental health.
Climate change can induce stress and anxiety in people; this phenomenon is known as eco-anxiety which is also known as eco-grief. People experiencing eco-anxiety may decide not to have kids out of fear that they’ll end up suffering the consequences of climate change. Eco-anxiety might even encourage a feedback loop of negative messaging. Though some would argue that “ignorance is bliss”, some people might seek out even more media and news that confirm their anxieties.
Brynn, a student at MacEwan University, has been feeling stress from the recent wildfires occurring across Canada and regularly checks in with her family members.
“I’m quite anxious and nervous about that, kinda checking in everyday,” says Brynn. As a result, she believes that her family’s status will be distracting and worrying during the upcoming school year. “A lot of my focus has gone to checking on them instead of preparing for classes so I’d say that’s where it’s affecting me and taking away my mental capacity.”
On the other hand, Canon, a commerce student, has an optimistic look despite their concern over climate change. “It’s stressful seeing where our world is going but also I think that there [are] a lot of people trying to do some good…I think that’s what keeps me going,” they say.
Holli-Anne Passmore, an associate professor of psychology at Concordia University, suggests that eco-anxiety is not a mental illness, but an understandable reaction to climate change.
“It’s a really healthy reaction to a very serious crisis in an abnormal situation,” says Passmore. “…I really liken it to a building that is on fire and someone is sitting there like, ‘I’m not concerned.’ There is something wrong with that.”
Although concerns and anxieties relating to climate change are prevalent, it is still important to acknowledge the existence of such feelings. Of course, the existence of other mental health conditions may aggravate the symptoms of eco-anxiety.
“It’s stressful seeing where our world is going but also I think that there [are] a lot of people trying to do some good…I think that’s what keeps me going.”
Canon, commerce student at MacEwan
Passmore notes that it’s important for people to connect with nature in ways that don’t solely concern climate change and to not feel guilty when appreciating the outdoors. She believes that anxieties over climate change are going to become more prevalent in the collective consciousness, but so will ideas on how to ease those anxieties.
Passmore proposes three methods to alleviate eco-anxiety: acknowledging feelings of eco-anxiety, making decisions that directly or indirectly impact the environment, and fostering a connection with nature. “You need to talk about it, and I find that a lot of people don’t talk about this. And that’s become a very isolating experience and that’s ungood,” says Passmore. “You don’t have to save the world… Nobody is asking people to do that.”
“You don’t have to save the world… Nobody is asking people to do that.”
Holli Passmore, Professor at Concordia University
Graphics by Shelby Mandin