Climate change and mental health
Mental health impacts of climate change can be direct or indirect and include ‘eco-anxiety’ (chronic fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster), ‘ecoparalysis’ (feelings of powerlessness and inability to act on climate change), and ‘solastalgia’ (distress and sense of isolation arising from the gradual loss of solace from one’s changing environment).*
In 2019, researchers from the Health Nature Sustainability Research Group – Dr Rebecca Patrick, Dr Claire Henderson-Wilson, Ms Teresa Capetola and Ms Sue Noy – joined forces with Tony LaMontagne, Professor in Work, Mental Health and Wellbeing, Director of the Institute’s Determinants of Health research domain, to open up a new stream of public health research focused on climate change and mental health.
Findings from the researchers’ ‘Environmental Workplace Mental Health Promotion’ study suggest that eco-anxiety and trauma are present among employees of the environmental sector. Passion for the cause and opportunities for contact with nature were health promoting, however this was moderated by the potentially negative impacts of ‘over-commitment’ to environmental work goals.
The environmental sector has been engaged with the project from its inception and an interactive feedback process is informing the development of workplace mental health prevention and control strategies for workers in the sector.
This research was the platform for two new studies. One is examining young people’s mental health promotion in a climate impacted world, with preliminary findings indicating there are health benefits in participating in climate action for young people (i.e. active coping). The other is an upcoming National Survey on Climate Change and Mental Health: Australian Temperature Check in partnership with Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation and supported by the ABC and The Climate and Health Alliance.
The body of research provides critical ‘temperature checks’ on emerging climate-related mental health issues in Australia and will inform the policy advocacy and campaigns of our partner The Climate and Health Alliance, including its Framework for a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Wellbeing.
*Burke 2017; Hayes et al 2018