You must have heard of a man who asked Canada for a medically assisted suicide due to his anxiety about the planet. Yes, we are talking about Howard Breen, the 68-year-old eco-activist known for super-gluing himself to log booms, stopping air traffic on tarmacs, and hunger strikes.
In 2017, Breen was diagnosed with clinical eco-anxiety and biosphere-related depression.
Eco-anxiety, however, is currently not recognised as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, whose diagnostic manual Canada uses. While eco-anxiety may not be a legitimate mental illness to some, it is to others. In British Columbia, where Breen lives, a recent study found that extreme weather events have contributed to a 13 per cent rise in eco-anxiety. According to the study, climate change is making people question whether they should have kids, have sex, or even live.
For instance, In India and Australia rising temperature has already contributed to drought, resulting in crop failure resulting in an increasing rate of suicide among farmers in both countries. In fact, a 2019 Stanford study found a link between increased temperatures and suicide rates. The research, published in Nature Climate Change, concluded that up to 21,000 suicides would take place by 2050 within the United States and Mexico if unmitigated climate change continues at the current projected rates.
A 2021 survey across 10 countries, led by Bath University in collaboration with five universities, recorded responses from 10,000 people aged between 16 and 25 on their thoughts and feelings about climate change. More than half respondents reported that they were experiencing anger, sadness or guilt because of climate change. Over 45 per cent of the participants said these feelings had a significant negative impact on their everyday lives.
But what is eco-anxiety? How does one identify it?
For starters, it’s an intense fear of entropy related to the existential threat of the current climatic condition; a mix of fear, rage, frustration, and helplessness in the face of something as daunting and frightening as climate change.
According to a report, six distinct components of eco-anxiety include worrying for the future and next generation, empathy, conflicts with family, friends, or colleagues; being disturbed by the changes, mental health symptoms such as anxiety, panic, depression, and helplessness and frustration.
Step towards a global commitment
It’s quite easy to judge yourself harshly for lifestyle practices that contribute to climate change, such as using plastic, using air conditioner and refrigerator, etc. Guilt and shame for your impact may go hand in hand with feelings of powerlessness, driven by the clock ticking away your limited time to create change. However, one can certainly take steps to reduce their carbon footprint — but no single person can resolve climate change alone. It’s a large-scale problem that requires a global commitment.
Adopting sustainable lifestyle practices can often make a difference. Calculating your carbon footprint can give you a better idea of ways to reduce the impact. Opting physical commuting, such as cycling or walking, over driving can improve both your physical and mental health while reducing carbon emissions. You can also reach out to community organisations working towards climate protection. This could help you get involved in broader policy efforts to address climate change.