Eco-anxiety: Does climate change impact our mental health?


The aftermath of September 11, 2001 caused collective trauma on the American population. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a paper stating media-based exposure to the attacks was associated with psychological distress, including acute stress, post-traumatic stress and ongoing fears about future attacks.

Climate change is having a similar effect, called “eco-anxiety,” on worldwide populations. Eco-anxiety is a fairly recent psychological disorder caused by anxiety or worries about the ecological threats facing the Earth.

In a paper published by the American Psychological Association, co-author Susan Clayton stated, “Some of climate change’s impacts on mental health will come about from the direct and immediate physical impacts of climate change. Others will come about as a result of climate change’s more gradual impacts on the environment, human systems and infrastructure.”

The symptoms are serious

Dr. Clayton and her co-authors found the impacts of climate change on mental health include:

  • Trauma, shock and PTSD
  • Anxiety, depression and grief
  • Strains on social relationships
  • Substance abuse
  • Hopelessness, fatalism and resignation

A report published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program found that some people are at higher risk for mental health consequences, including children, pregnant and postpartum women, people with pre-existing mental illness or who are economically disadvantaged, and first responders. It also stated that representations of climate change in the media and popular culture could influence an individual’s stress response and mental well-being.

There is no single solution for the impacts on mental health brought on by climate change. However, the emerging field of ecotherapy (which essentially means spending more time in nature) may help alleviate some of the stress through activities like nature meditation, horticultural therapy or conservation activities.

Psychotherapist Leslie Davenport says, “Activism is a therapeutic intervention.” Her suggestions include getting involved in activities such as greening your home or workplace, attending marches and pushing for climate change curriculum at schools.