World mental health day is celebrated every year on 10th October, since 1992. It deals with awareness and advocacy for social stigmas surrounding mental illness. With respect to this, my sole motivation for this article is to acknowledge the effect of climate change on the mental health of an individual.
Source: BBC, gettyimages
The above picture is of Mumbai’s Aarey colony protest, where more than a thousand trees were slashed down to make a metro rail project. It gives us the sense of a dead human body around which people are waiting for the lost. This analogy explains the fact that sooner or later, people start valuing the environment, but there is more to it.
Scholars in the field of climate change have well-argued in their papers, that environment degradations are the new security challenges for the states and possess a threat to its social and political stability. Due to the melting of ice and rising sea level, it is estimated that most of the low lands countries like Bangladesh and Maldives will completely sink by 2030. According to the fifth assessment report, by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change IPCC, the rise of temperature above 1.5 degrees is the threshold and a rise beyond that can cause severe catastrophic damage to our environment.
These are well-researched consequences of climate change on the ecosystem and its sustainability. Beyond this, there are several other impacts of climate change, which are passively prevalent in society and are least addressed. One of them is eco-anxiety. The Psychologists claim that there are large numbers of people suffering from eco-anxiety over the issue of climate change. In simple terms, environmental degradation is affecting the human psyche, making people obsessed and frustrated at the same time, to save the environment.
It is leading to depression and hypersensitivity in people. According to this Reuter report, children are the most affected by eco-anxiety; they feel grief and pain for climate change and believe that climate change is revenge by nature, which the adults have exploited over the years. ‘Eco-anxiety includes, as mentioned in the American psychological association report produced in 2017, “chronic fear of environmental doom”.
The protest carries forward by the 15-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg since August 2018, has made a difference and raised people’s concerns about climate change. Her speech at the UN climate action summit on 23rd September, ‘How dare you’, calls for the adults to panic over climate change, it reflects the aggression, fear and frustration of a 16-year-old girl and many others like her all around the world. The children are frustrated to observe the permanent damage that has been done to nature and they feel they cannot do anything about it. In the documentary by BBC radio1 about eco-anxiety, Sam Johnston from Manchester says,
“When you go to sleep, and start thinking about everything- the state of the planet, really, and the potential future of it- knowing that there’s only so much you can do as one person. I think that’s anxiety- because you feel a bit powerless in it all.”
In my opinion, there is a thin line between a healthy activist to someone who falls prey to eco-anxiety. Another way this anxiety could gain ground is through the means of popular culture; the repercussions of climate change have been projected by many movies and series in recent times; web series like ‘Leila’ and the movie ‘2012’ are examples. They depict the horrendous condition of the future on earth.
The scholars are of the view that civil wars, also called eco-violence, are the major environmental security challenge that states may face shortly. According to the Indian think tank, NITI Aayog report, the four major cities of India, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad will run out of underground water affecting over 100 million people by 2025. This water crisis can be a reason for civil unrest among people, and its consequences will be severe on individual mental health.
Psychologists believe that through several measures, these anxieties could be managed. With respect to children, parents should talk to them about how they feel about climate change and make them believe that tackling it is not their sole responsibility. Adults should also talk about it and be the cause for change, with small efforts in the surrounding environment like workplaces and homes.
One should be conscious of everyday activities in fighting climate change. The small efforts towards change matter a lot if everyone contributes, keeping in mind the larger picture of environmental destruction happening around us.