Mandy Kloppers

Climate change and its impact on mental health worldwide

There is enough for us to worry about without adding climate change to the mix. As we move forward and ‘progress’ (moot point), we diagnose and understand more mental health disorders. I can already see that there will, in the future, be a disorder linked to the stress and anxiety from modern technology. When we can’t get a phone or computer to work – hardware related issues or when we feel upset through social media comparisons. Social media can lead to feeling insignificant in a world where almost everyone now has an online presence and we have ever more opprotunities to compare ourselves and our success to others.

I have had a few clients who are mothers. They have told me how they now face new areas of criticism and discrimination. I was astounded to hear from one mother that she had been ostracised by other mothers for not throwing a birthday party that was environmentally friendly enough. Sure, we all want to protect the planet but some people with nefarious intentions use a legitimate issue to bully others unnecessarily. This is not on.

Balloons apparently are no longer an option and there are certain rules that need to be obeyed if you want to be accepted by the in-crowd of mothers at school. My son is older now and I no longer throw birthday parties for him so I am a bit out of the loop.

Goodie bags are a no-no. if you want to throw an eco-friendly party. Avoid styrofoam and use bamboo…

There are all sorts of rules that an eco friendly environmentally wise mother should know these days.

I saw another mother who suffers from severe anxiety related to climate change. If she has to use a plastic cup she broods over it for ages and criticises herself, not feeling good enough for not doing her bit. She no longer uses tampons or sanitary towels and prefers to use a menstrual cup. In many ways her efforts are commendable yet she focuses on what she isn’t doing. She also worries incessantly about the state of the planet and what will be left for her daughter and generations to come. Again – all legitimate worries but these can be taken to an extreme where it actually becomes a mental disorder that interferes with everyday functioning.

We are bombarded with fearful messages about the state of the planet creating panic and angst. Many feel the problem is something they cannot singlehandedly fix which leaves them feeling hopeless and powerless, often leading to anxiety and/or depression.

How to cope with climate change anxiety

Focus on what you can change not what you can’t.

Focus on what you are doing to help the planet, A good example is to avoid single use plastic and dispose of waste responsibly.

Don’t catastrophise about the future. No one knows for sure what may happen. Focus on the present moment – this is where your power lies.

Consider whether your anxiety is an extension of another level of anxiety or unhappiness in your life. Sometimes, people who have no purpose and have too much time to think and overanalyse can end up focusing on climate change and environmental issues. This is a form of displacement that can be explored with a counsellor.

It occurs when we know we want to react, but, for a variety of reasons, we know we can’t or shouldn’t in the way that we’d like. This can offer occur below our threshold of awareness.

Sadly, there hasn’t been much research on the impact of negative environmental issues on mental health. It stands to reason though that the more disasters – such as hurricanes, (think of the fires in Australia), flooding etc there are, the more mental health issues will rise.

In its Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, the World Health Organisation drew attention to the huge unmet global need for more and better, research-informed, mental health support.

It’s a good thing that the world’s focus has shifted and key people, like Greta Thunberg, have helped keep the issues of climate change in the awareness of those in Government. We can all do our bit but allowing our mental health to be affected would be an added whammy. Keep yourself well, focus on the good and don’t overthink or catastrophise.

Mandy X


Photo by Gustavo Quepón on Unsplash