Categorized as a state of heightened anxiousness, climate anxiety is often described with terms like guilt, grief, and desperation as an overwhelming sense of doom about the state of the environment arises. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines climate anxiety as 'a chronic fear of environmental doom'.
First, nature can act as both an exacerbator and a healer of climate anxiety. Anxieties can be triggered by events that physically damage the environment like natural disasters, land-use change and resource depletion.
Another widely cited driver of climate anxiety is the ways in which climate change is communicated. Whether you consume your information from TV news channels, online articles or social media, any of these can exacerbate climate anxiety.
Image Credit: Walden University
Climate change can contribute to short-term and long-term mental health conditions. Possible effects include
Links Between Climate Change and Mental Health
Climate change presents widespread risks to human health. And a growing body of research provides evidence for climate change impacts on mental health in particular.
In February 2022, a major scientific report from the IPCC systematically reviewed evidence linking climate change to diagnosable mental health disorders and broader outcomes for well-being.
This was the first time that mental health was directly discussed and assessed within IPCC reports—a sign of our growing scientific understanding of the topic, and its importance for the global response to climate change.
According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment:
mental health consequences—ranging from minimal stress and distress symptoms to clinical disorders, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and [risk of suicide]—can result from exposures to short-lived orprolonged climate- or weather-related events.
The latest IPCC reports also distinguish climate change-related mental health risks that are:
Direct—such as anxiety, depression or PTSD stemming from personal traumas (injury, displacement, or loss of loved ones) sustained during a hurricane.
Indirect—such as stress, substance abuse, or suicidal ideation among individuals whose livelihoods or food security are affected by drought.
Vicarious—such as anxiety, fear and distress that can affect people when they learn about or perceive climate change risks or witness its harmful impacts on others.
Find climate change and mental health resources from the Climate Mental Health Network.
Explore a report on climate change and youth mental health from Climate Mental Health Network + other partners.
Explore a presentation/survey results for "Responding to Climate Emotions: Media and Tech-Based Tools" from the climate mental health network.
From the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, explore facts about climate change and trauma.
Climate change and related disasters cause anxiety-related responses as well as chronic and severe mental health disorders. Flooding and prolonged droughts have been associated with elevated levels of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders. The trauma and losses from a disaster, such as losing a home or job and being disconnected from neighborhood and community, can contribute to depression and anxiety.
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, mainly caused by human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels.