Shedding Light in the Darkness

Climate Change Anxiety

Pre T trau Stress Disorder Mohrtoons cartoonVery interesting article in the latest Rolling Stone on climate change and its impact of young peoples’ mental health. It talks about pre-traumatic stress disorder. “Behind their signs and placards, their anger and frustration are clear. What is harder to see is their anxiety, the psychological burden of those “oh no!” thoughts that threaten to arise, the private moments of panic and fear felt by a generation that cannot remember a time before the planet’s future was imperiled.

“I grew up in the nuclear era, and I feel like the nuclear threat activated my nervous system at a very young age,” says Renee Lertzman, a psychologist and founding member of the Climate Psychology Alliance, a group of psychology professionals who specialize in addressing climate change.

Much of Lertzman’s research has been into how the climate-change threat is unique to our time. “Unlike the nuclear threat, we’re talking about how we live,” she continues. “This is about virtually every aspect of our contemporary lives.”

In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement positing that “the social foundations of children’s mental and physical health are threatened by the specter of far-reaching effects of unchecked climate change,”

“I’m struggling to find the words to describe the magnitude of what is being faced from a public mental health perspective,” says psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren.  “If we think the storms are bad outside, wait until we see the storms inside. You cannot
continue to hold up in front of young people the fact that things are only going to get worse and expect that they can create a kind of life that will allow them to thrive.”

There’s the growing knowledge, in our age of attachment
parenting, that “attachment to the natural world is just as important in terms of security as our attachment to other human beings,” says Elizabeth Haase, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and a founding member of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance. “That’s actually a radically new concept in psychology.”

Just as children need to trust that a caregiver will be there for them in order for healthy psychological development to occur, they need to trust that their environment will be there as well. That it may not be — or not as it is now — creates a sense of insecurity, a sense of loss that can’t cycle through the normal stages of grief because it’s a loss that’s ongoing.

“When you have a traumatic loss or any kind of disruption that’s very painful, you can come out of it by going back
to trying to do it the way you did it before,” says Haase.

There’s no going back to how things were, which is leading
to a type of dread that’s sometimes referred to as solastalgia (a sort of anticipatory grief caused by the climate crisis) or pre-traumatic stress disorder, in which, as Haase puts it, “the focus is not on being constantly vigilant to what has happened, but constantly vigilant to what can happen.”

“The dilemma that seems completely new to humankind is that we’re having a pre-traumatic response. We can look ahead and think about what’s going to happen, which has to be raising our fight-and-flight response in a low-grade way. We are more and more at this constant edge, and it creates a chronic state of depletion with negative impact on how we are going about our days.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly one in three teenagers in America will experience an anxiety disorder, and why anxiety disorders in this group rose 20%
between 2007 and 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: