Researchers want to know
Does cutting your contribution to climate change also improve your mental health? Researchers want to know how you’re dealing with eco-anxiety.
The public health scientists – from Melbourne’s Deakin and Monash universities – are exploring how bad news about the environment brings us down and whether taking even small actions on climate change boosts our mental health.
To find out, they are asking people to take a survey which aims to understand the mental health impacts of climate change.
“The suite of feelings sometimes called ‘climate grief’ is very real, and psychologists around the world expect it to become much more common over the next few years,” says lead researcher Dr Rebecca Patrick from Deakin University.
“We want to see how widespread it is now and who it affects – and whether taking concrete action to reduce your own contribution to global heating or taking action with others can also improve mental health.”
Climate grief is expressed through a range of symptoms tied to concerns about the future of the world. These include anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, dizziness and feelings of powerlessness.
It’s just one of the themes explored during the ABC’s Your Planet season of stories about the climate challenge.
To date, more than 24,800 people have signed up to Carbon Counter, the online project curated by ABC Science and launched during National Science Week in August. So far, visitors to the Carbon Counter website have pledged to save 17,500 tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of taking 4,760 cars off the road for a whole year.
“While these actions are good for the planet, we’re keen to find out whether they also make people feel better in themselves,” says Rhonda Garad from Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation.
“People are dealing with difficult daily news about coronavirus cases and job losses, wildfires in California, and other stressful information. We want to understand how people are coping so that we can better prepare people mentally and emotionally for future climate change.”
Rebecca, Rhonda and colleagues’ survey is called Climate Change and Mental Health: Australian Temperature Check. It is open to all people over the age of 18, and participants remain anonymous.
The survey can be found here: https://researchsurveys.deakin.edu.au/jfe/form/SV_8BK0V6SfqdPmg7j or via www.deakin.edu.au/tempcheck.
This study has received Deakin University ethics approval (Ref No: 2020-224)
Talent available for interview and quotes
Dr Rebecca Patrick, Senior Lecturer Public Health – Health Promotion, Co-lead Health Nature Sustainability research group, Deakin University
Rebecca is a health promotion and climate change researcher. She is the chief investigator of the national survey Climate Change and Mental Health: Australian Temperature Check.
“Climate change is impacting the mental health of Australians. We know from bushfire and drought research for instance that we can expect PTSD, depression, alcohol addiction, and increased rates of domestic violence in affected communities. Our research at Deakin tells us young people and environmental workers are experiencing ‘eco-anxiety’. We think this might just be the tip of the iceberg.”
“We are measuring both mental health ‘illness’ and ‘wellness’ and assessing what people do to cope better with climate change. Being in nature or doing things to protect nature has positive mental health impacts – when you feel blue, it helps to touch green. We are now finding out where wellness benefits kick in for climate action – what makes people feel optimistic when it comes to climate and in what spheres of their life. Are there mental health benefits associated with personal action – living more sustainably or does the mental health boost get multiplied when you take action together?”
“In 2020 with the catastrophic bushfires and COVID-19, there has been plenty for Australian’s to worry about. This survey measures both eco-anxiety and COVID anxiety. It also takes a look at active coping measures and willingness to seek support from a mental health professional.”
Dr Rhonda Garad, Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow in Knowledge Translation, Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation
Rhonda is a public and women’s health researcher. She has a strong focus on influencing systems-based change and the orientation of care to meet the needs of end users.
“This survey will be critical to influencing health policy around mental health care in relation to climate change. The survey looks at the mental health of those who have directly experienced a climate change event, and/or those who fear future events. These two encompass a large portion of our community therefore, mental health care will need to have a range of responses to help people. We hope that the Government and the public/mental health sectors will start to shape health systems around these findings.”
“We know that fear of global warming is influencing future decisions such as if people will have children or where they will choose to live. This survey will help us understand the way fear of climate change impacts is influencing life decisions and how we can support them to make decisions that are based on likely scenarios and to create supporting communities to assist this process.”
“My own children are telling me they may not have children and may not make long-term life decisions because so much of the future is unknown. This is very hard for a parent to hear. We need to support parents in responding to their children’s worry or despair. This survey will help us more clearly understand how climate change is impacting families and what support they need.”
Dr Tristan Snell, counselling psychologist, and researcher in environmental psychology, Deakin University
Tristan’s research interests include children and the environment. He can speak about climate grief and eco-anxiety from a psychologist’s perspective.
“Researchers have developed a number of ways of conceptualising mental health issues that are related to climate change, including eco-anxiety, eco-despair, and climate grief.
“Recent research suggests that most Australians identify climate change as a personal problem among children and adults. More research is needed to explore what coping strategies might be most effective to protect the mental health of Australians.”
“The mental health impacts of climate change are likely to impact those who have a closer connection to the environment, including farmers and indigenous groups.”
“Mental health issues related to climate change are likely to impact those from more disadvantaged groups with lower financial resources, less mobility, and those with current health conditions. In this sense, climate change may act as an effective ‘poverty multiplier’.”
Fiona Armstrong, Founder and Executive Director Climate and Health Alliance.
Fiona is a social entrepreneur, public policy expert and researcher, author. Fiona’s background is as a registered nurse and journalist.
“This survey will offer useful insights into the strategies people are using to manage their mental health in relation to climate change. This will be very valuable in helping to form recommendations for action – by governments in relation to policy, institutions and businesses in caring for their workforces, and for individuals in adopting strategies and behaviours to cope.
“I hope this evidence will help to make the case for urgent action on climate change, and to uncover ways in which we as a community can remain well in the face of the changes we can no longer avoid.”