Alleviating eco-anxiety

November 2021

Guest blogger, Emma Lewington, a mental health clinician from the Sussex Partnership, reflects on eco-anxiety as an issue that affects people’s mental health and suggests possible ways of dealing with it  

People across all age groups talk about their anxiety about the environment in our sessions. I think there is a mix of everyday general concern about climate change, to this leading to increased symptoms in a person’s mental health condition – whether this is anxiety, depression or paranoia.

If a person is depressed, anxious or mentally unwell, any world concerns like this may seem even more scary and they may not be as resilient in managing their thoughts and feelings.  

For some people, eco-anxiety manifests itself in low mood or it can even increase thoughts that there is no point going on, adding to suicidal thinking patterns. Environmental concerns augment anxiety levels in a lot of people, especially for those already living with anxiety. I have also noticed that it can increase interest in – and fixation on – conspiracy theories.  

It is important to allow people the time to discuss and explore their worries and fears and to examine whether these are based in reality. It is a serious situation, so pretending it is not real does not help people. But it is about getting a balance, so that people can still live their lives without feeling overwhelmed and catastrophising.

We also empower people to feel they can do something about climate change and to help the environment, however small. For some people, it might help them to join a local environmental group or to read more online. For others, it might be more about focusing on their self-care and well-being. And we work with people to develop strategies to manage the symptoms they might experience – using distractions, self-soothing, mindfulness and other evidence-based interventions.

Young people and children can be particularly at risk from eco-anxiety and parents can help them to deal with this. My advice would be to be honest with children, but without adding the fear factor. Children know what is going on. So again, a bit of action and helping them feel they can make changes and be involved can change the focus for them.  

People working in mental health services are aware of eco-anxiety as an issue and know how to support people with different symptoms and presentations. However, more training is always helpful when new issues such as this arise.

I think that eco-anxiety will have a bigger role to play in the future in mental health – and that will be exacerbated not just by what we see online or on the television, but also by the real impact climate change will ultimately have on people’s lives.