Why climate anxiety may not be anxiety at all

Air Quality News’ Georgie Hughes dives into climate anxiety, examining whether it can be considered a mental condition at all and how minority communities can be included in the conversation.  

A lot of the discussion surrounding air pollution, naturally, is how it impacts our physical health. As a global public health issue and millions of deaths caused by this each year, this conversation is crucial. Yet, what isn’t always considered is how air pollution affects our mental health.

woman in gray crew neck shirt

Our mental wellbeing is just as important as our physical health but can often be neglected. With air pollution intrinsically linked to the environment and the health of our planet, it’s impossible to ignore the impact the climate crisis is having on us all.  

As the UK suffered severe heatwaves throughout the summer, it’s been plain to see the climate crisis is here now and is set to get worse. 86% of Brits said they were worried or very worried about the impacts the crisis could have according to an Office of National Statistics (ONS) survey released this September. Concerns about the climate emergency have been named ‘climate anxiety’, as people find they experience a whole range of emotions as they witness the crisis unfold.  

Judith Anderson, Chair of the Climate Psychology Alliance, which offers support to those struggling with these emotions, says the term eco-distress is a more accurate term: ‘The difficult thing about the term “climate anxiety” is it’s not specific. It’s not just anxiety, it’s a kind of heading for a whole load of different feelings.

We find many people who understand the facts about climate change go through a spectrum of feelings, as you might with bereavement. One of my colleagues, Caroline Hickman, has a lovely phrase for it, she talks about the biodiversity of emotions.’  We are all aware of the physical aspects and health consequences of the climate crisis, as health professional organisation Medact calls for rapid decarbonisation to protect global health.

But what isn’t always considered is how the crisis affects the mental wellbeing too, as there are increased psychiatric admissions during periods of high temperatures. ‘This is important because people forget this part, particularly psychotherapists, as they think about the emotional impact of climate change,’ Anderson explains. ‘But actually, there is this physical aspect, which is very well researched.’  

Read the full feature in the latest issue of Air Quality News magazine.

Photo: Alexei Maridashvili


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top