This Mental Health Awareness Week, IEMA's Digital Journalist Tom Pashby discusses the rise of eco-anxiety and support available with Prof. Steve Simpson, Professor of Marine Biology and Global Change at the University of Bristol.

The growing impacts of the climate and ecological emergency, and expanding coverage of those impacts, mean more people than ever before experience anxiety about the future and grief for the loss of our healthy environment. ‘Eco-anxiety’ is the term used to describe all those thoughts and feelings, and it is experienced most acutely by “children, young people, and the communities with the least resources to overcome the adverse consequences of the climate crisis” according to research published in the BMJ. Eco-anxiety is, of course, also experienced within the environment and sustainability profession.

As someone who has studied and worked with environmental issues for over a decade, I have experienced plenty of eco-anxiety myself, particularly when reading the latest IPCC reports about the state of the planet. I remember when I read the 2018 IPCC report on 1.5 degrees, I initially felt despair at how rapidly the climate is spinning out of control, but thankfully it also galvanised my commitment to environmental action.

I spoke with Prof. Steve Simpson, Professor of Marine Biology and Global Change at the University of Bristol, an IEMA Corporate Partner, who said:

“Working as a marine biologist studying coral reef ecosystems and seeing the devastating effects of pollution on corals, exposed my colleagues and I to eco-grief – something which we didn’t even have the words to describe at the time.

“Since that and increasing awareness of the prevalence of eco-grief and eco-anxiety right across society, particularly among young people, motivated me to get involved in trying to address this mental health issue. I wrote a letter with colleagues to the journal Science on why Grieving environmental scientists need support and have been involved in several projects looking at how people can turn their feelings from anxiety into motivation and take collective action on environmental issues.”

There is no one good answer to how to deal with eco-anxiety, and different things work for different people, but support is available. It is something which is being increasingly studied by medical professionals and non-medical academics, and it is filtering through to the frontline of healthcare.

In addition to speaking with like-minded people about the state of our planet, and working in the environment and sustainability sector, you can contact your GP to discuss the help available to you on the NHS.


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