Updated: Oct 31, 2021
It is called Solastalgia and indicates the anxiety and stress generated by climate change
It would literally translate into climate anxiety: a status that can harm mental health resulting in depressions to be treated pharmacologically.
Climate change has taken on such significance in people's lives that it can no longer be neglected: «In 2007 the issue resembled a mouse in a room; then it turned into an elephant and finally from 2016 the problem took on a truly imposing character, starting to flood us ", he explained to CNN Wendy Petersen Boring, professor at Willamette University (Oregon) and expert in the history of climate change.
A student who attended Boring's class admitted she woke up in the middle of the night crying for two hours due to the warming of the oceans. "A graduate in computer science," the professor pointed out.
"The change in my students, the sense of pain, fear and paralysis has become palpable," added Boring.
In the United States, there is also a specific term for this type of disorder: solastalgia. It is a neologism coined by Glenn Albrecht in 2003 and which in 2015 the medical journal ' The Lancet' included it as a
"concept that contributes to the impact of climate change on human health and well-being".
According to the Association of American Psychologists, which has drawn up a 70-page guide on the subject , professors and mental health professionals must "start discussions on climate change and the consequences it has on humans" in order to " bring to the attention of most of the correlation between them and mental illness / mental health » .
The psychological impact of climate change
The idea that the climate has an influence on our way of living and thinking dates back to ancient Greece; Hippocrates, Aristotle, Plato, Polybius had in fact elaborated theories about the influence of geoclimatic factors on human psychology (Issa, A. 1992).
Montesquieu was the first to illustrate, in the book De l'Esprit des lois (Mercier, R. 1953), the theory of how the climate influences society, considering it one of the main factors capable of influencing the genesis of social determinants.
Over the years, from generation to generation, different countries have determined their behavioral and nutritional culture and tradition through a syncytial link with the climatic conditions of the relevant area. The subjective and collective identity of each area is therefore inextricably linked to the relative geoclimatic conditions which have been more or less stable for thousands of years.
It is therefore legitimate to ask what could happen if these conditions suddenly and irreversibly began to change drastically, if northern regions such as Canada or Siberia experienced summer temperatures of 47 degrees, if populations with a culture based on fishing found themselves gradually losing the fish of their sea. What could be the extent of the population psychological damage if this occurs? What impact could such a change have on a global scale? An increasing number of academics and experts are starting to ask themselves questions like these, trying to find a solution to the problem.
We know that the psychological impact of any form of disaster exceeds physical damage by 40: 1 and that the frequency of climate change, weather-related disasters has increased by 46% since 2000 (Links, J. 2017).
Sudden natural disasters that cause human and animal deaths, loss of resources, interruption of social support and social networks, forced migration, can lead to the appearance of psychopathological alterations of various degrees up to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression , generalized anxiety , increased suicidal risk and substance use (Washington: US Global Change Research Program, 2016).
It can therefore be assumed that in the future, as the frequency of extreme climatic events increases further due to global warming, the number of people who, due to natural disasters, will experience mental health consequences will also increase.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates an increase of 250,000 excess deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to the impact of climate change ”(Watts, N., Adger, WN, Agnolucci, et al. 2015). Already considering this, the sense of anguish and helplessness that this topic causes is evident.
Although the scientific literature is still little attentive to the correlation between climate change and mental health, some terms have been coined to define the psychological reactions to Climate Change, the most widespread and used of which is eco-anxiety, defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a “chronic fear of environmental ruin” (Schreiber, M. March 2021).
When we talk about anxiety we refer to a feeling projected towards an idealized future in an unrealistically and excessively catastrophic way. Climate change, on the other hand, is a real threat that is not only future but also past and present. It is a creeping enemy that accompanies our lives putting us in a condition of constant alert.
Management is also difficult: it is not possible to get distracted since the problem is real, persistent and ubiquitous. Many respond by changing their lifestyle starting from the assumption of pro-environmental behaviours, which require significant efforts and do not give tangible effects, up to various degrees of activism, which often generates isolation, discrimination, misunderstanding, a sense of loneliness.
The subjects most exposed are young people as they are the most informed and those who have more future to live than all. In adolescents, dealing with the idea of an unstable and unpredictable future, because upset by the devastating effects of climate change, can make the process of building one's own identity more complex, given that this identity is no longer consistent with one's origin and tradition but characterized by a sense of uncertainty and fear of one's own destiny, loved ones and the fate of the whole world.
Dealing with eco-anxiety: between symptom adaptation and therapy How is eco-anxiety treated? The issue is subject to debate. If we start from the assumption that this type of anxiety is triggered by a real threat, it can be understood as a physiological phenomenon that therefore has an evolutionary and protective value that must not be treated but rather encouraged.
On the other hand, we must also count that a continuous state of arousal accompanied by a sense of helplessness and catastrophism can affect mental health in the long term.
The psychological approach to eco-anxiety. The aspects to be encouraged are pro-environmental behaviours, participation in autonomous ecological activities or promoted by associations, the commitment to disseminate information aimed at increasing collective awareness and finally participation in groups, which can help to find people with whom sharing climate concerns.
Invite the assisted to cultivate and implement the relationship with nature, proposing sports activities in it, increasing contact with animals, or practicing gardening. All of these are examples of activities that can promote the well-being of a person affected by eco-anxiety.
Climate change is gradually becoming a central factor in all sectors of modern society and will soon permeate aspects of health, including mental health. The ' eco-anxiety is not yet included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or recognized as a psychiatric condition and is currently only considered an aggravating factor that can worsen existing disorders (such as anxiety and depression).
We can fight eco-anxiety by helping the environment with little sustainable changes in our lifestyle.