Is climate change affecting your mental health?

24 February 2020, Australia – For young people, the environment is one of the three most important issues facing Australia, along with mental health, according to the 2019 Mission Australia Youth Survey.

To have some anxiety is an appropriate response to what’s happening on our planet. However, eco-anxiety, “a chronic fear of environmental doom” (American Psychological Association, 2017), has been shown to have a significant impact on our mental health.

batyr speaker Feifei
Feifei, 27, is a batyr speaker and a Chinese exchange student from Melbourne that has seen the effects of climate change first hand.“I have a lot of memories of the beautiful river in my hometown (in China), but it experienced drought and flood a few years ago and that’s when I started to learn about climate change and the ecosystem,” she said.

I’m quite concerned when I see the effects happening around the world due to climate change. I’m also disappointed because it’s not a natural result – it’s due to human activity and ignorance.”

However, Feifei said she is hopeful for the future because she has seen more and more people start to take action. She herself attends workshops to learn how to recycle more effectively and to reduce her carbon footprint.

Feifei gets involved in online petitions, volunteering and other offline activities organised by the Wilderness Society, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and the Port Phillip EcoCentre.

She is currently helping the Common Purpose Collective, a social innovation consultancy, to promote the circular economy concept to universities and businesses to help them reduce waste.

Although she concedes that it’s important for her to take breaks from social media and the news cycle when she needs to, Feifei said that social media plays a really important role in how she takes action on the changing environment.

“I actually want to know more rather than shutting it (social media) down – I want to be informed,” she said.

Many people around the world are affected by climate change which means we are not alone and there is hope, Feifei said.

“If you ever feel stressed, watch ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’. The power of nature is extraordinary – trust our planet!”

batyr Chief Happiness Officer Dr Happy
Taking charge of your mental health batyr Chief Happiness Officer Dr Tim Sharp said there are things you can do to cope with anxiety over the environment:

Make small changes in your everyday life

Trying to carry all of the planet’s climate problems on your shoulders is exhausting and can take a toll on your mental wellbeing. A healthier response is to focus on what is in your control such as recycling, reusing and reducing waste.

Consider taking regular breaks from social media and the news if they’re getting you down – it doesn’t mean you don’t care. Giving yourself space and time to feel can help you re-energise and make a positive difference in your day.

Get social, find like-minded people and speak up

If you’re feeling isolated and helpless due to climate anxiety, hang out with friends and people who feel as strongly about the environment as you do.

Getting together can be a great way to express your concerns. You won’t feel as alone because there are others that feel the same as you do.

Be realistic

None of us are, or ever will be perfect and the fact is, we all make a contribution to carbon emissions in some way. Just being a human on earth means we’re leaving a carbon footprint!

Instead, take little positive environmental steps in your life, and encourage those around you to do the same. Lots of littles will add up to something big!

If you’re in need of support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

If you’re in a bushfire-affected community, you may also want to check out Beyond Blue’s Looking after yourself after a disaster.

If you would like to learn how to share your lived experience with mental ill-health, please register your interest to attend a ‘Being Herd’ workshop.