A new toolkit provides coping strategies for people worried about climate change. These strategies include volunteering, building community, discussing emotions with others, practicing mindfulness, and seeking therapy.
The Toolkit, developed by nursing experts at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, also offers reflection questions and a variety of voiced films for people to examine their values, emotions, and behavior in relation to the environment.
“Many people have difficulty understanding the relationship between climate change and mental health and experience high levels of stress about climate change,” Natania Abebe, a registered nurse and graduate student at UBC who developed the toolkit, said. Medscape Medical News.
“Youth, in particular, seem to have a higher level of awareness about climate change because they are the ones who will inherit the planet,” he said. “A large part of why they have mental health problems is because they feel trapped in a socio-political structure they don’t agree with and don’t create.”
This toolkit was published online on April 20, 2022.
Empowering Agents for Change
Abebe was inspired to create the device after giving a guest lecture on climate change and mental health as part of UBC’s 290 Nursing course. Its faculty advisor, Raluca Radu, developed a course in 2020 to teach students about the far-reaching impacts of climate change on society.
As the course progressed over the last 2 years, Abebe wanted to create interesting frameworks and films for health educators to use with students, as well as for ordinary people.
The toolkit includes contributions from three Canadian climate change experts, as well as six students from various backgrounds who have taken the course.
“I want to focus the voices of young people and empower them to think they can be agents of change,” Abebe said. “I also want to highlight the diverse voices and take a collaborative approach because climate change is such a big problem that we have to tackle it together.”
Abebe and Radu also noted an increase in climate anxiety in recent years due to the pandemic, worldwide food and energy shortages, and extreme weather events hitting close to home, such as bushfires and flooding in British Columbia.
“With the pandemic, people are spending more time online and thinking about our world at large,” Abebe said. “At the same time that they think about it, climate change events are happening simultaneously – not in the future, but in the present.”
The economic, social and political shifts over the past 2 years have also prompted people to question standard practices and institutions, which have created opportunities to discuss change, Radu said. Medscape Medical News.
“This is a very important time to question our values and a highly consumptive society,” he said. “We are at a point in time where, if we don’t take action, the health of the planet will be in an irreversible state, and we won’t be able to turn back time and make changes.”
Our Soul and Nature
The toolkit includes three main sections featuring video clips and reflective questions around environmental anxiety, environmental paralysis, and ecological grief.
In the first section, environmental anxiety is defined as “chronic fear of environmental destruction”, which can include anxiety around possible adverse weather events due to ongoing news and social media coverage. Reflective questions encourage readers to discuss environmental anxieties in their lives, deal with their emotions, understand their beliefs and values, and determine how to use them to address climate change anxiety.
The second section defines eco-paralysis as the helplessness people may feel when they do not believe that they can do anything meaningful at an individual level to address climate change. Paralysis can appear as apathetic, complacent, or uninvolved. The questions prompt readers to observe how paralysis can arise in their lives, explore the tension between individual responsibility versus collective responsibility, and consider ways to overcome their sense of powerlessness about climate change.
In the third section, ecological grief centers around “experienced or anticipated ecological losses,” which can include the loss of species, ecosystems, and landscapes due to short- or long-term environmental changes. The questions encourage readers to explore their feelings, beliefs and values and feel empowered to overcome their ecological grief over climate change.
The toolkit also includes recommendations for books, journal articles, websites, podcasts, and meditations around mental health and climate change, as well as ways to engage with others. For example, healthcare practitioners can sign up for PaRx, a program in British Columbia that allows providers to prescribe time in nature to improve a client’s health. The program is adopted throughout Canada, and people with prescriptions can visit local and national parks, historic sites, and marine protected areas for free.
“It’s about recognizing that there is a connection between our soul and nature, and by talking about it, we can name how we feel,” Abebe said. “We can take action not only to deal with our emotions, but also to live more hospitable and sustainable lifestyles.”
Future work will need to focus on population-level approaches to climate change and mental health as well, including policy and financial support to address environmental change head-on.
“We need to start thinking beyond individual approaches and focus on how to create supportive and resilient communities to respond to climate change,” Kiffer Card, PhD, executive director of the Alliance on Mental Health and Climate Change and assistant professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, told Medscape Medical News.
Card, who was not involved in developing the device, has researched the current trends around climate change anxiety in Canada and answered questions from health practitioners and mental health professionals looking for ways to help their patients.
“Society must be prepared to stand up and respond to acute emergencies, and government leaders need to take this seriously,” he said. “Those experiencing climate anxiety now are canaries in the coal mines for severe weather events and impending consequences.”
This toolkit was developed with funding from the Alma Mater Society of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Abebe, Radu, and Card reported no relevant disclosures.
BC Campus Press Book. Published online April 20, 2022. Toolkit
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