In time for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has released new research findings showing a profound connection between deteriorating mental health and climate breakdown.
Given the impact of climate breakdown on the Earth’s physical landscape and biodiversity, it is not surprising that over half of people (55%) agree that climate change poses a threat to the mental health of future generations.
Research conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has revealed widespread eco-anxiety; three in five (60%) responded that they were concerned about the effect of ecological emergencies on their mental health, and almost three in five (59%) 18-34-year-olds agree that failure to act will become a growing mental health problem.
Young people are particularly concerned about the effects of climate breakdown
Extreme weather, air pollution, and biodiversity loss are having a profoundly destructive impact on human and planetary health. This crisis is also intimately connected to existing health inequalities, as those who are already disadvantaged are often the most affected.
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Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which has been granted formal observer status at the ongoing COP26 summit, said: “Our mental and physical health is inextricably linked with the health of the natural world. The climate and ecological emergency [are] a mental health emergency.”
"The public is right to be worried about the future of our planet. For many people, these worries are affecting their mental health, and so understandably, they want to see action being taken.”
“Governments around the world must step up, take responsibility and deliver serious action at COP26 to put the planet on a healthier and more sustainable trajectory.”
Over half of child psychiatrists had patients with eco-anxiety
Instances of eco-anxiety are growing and are increasingly being treated by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. Although it is not formally recognised as a diagnosable condition, recognition of eco-anxiety and chronic fears surrounding environmental catastrophe is rising in psychotherapeutic environments.
Last year, the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that 57% of child and adolescent psychiatrists are seeing children and young people distressed about the climate crisis and the state of the environment.
Common symptoms include:
- Low mood
- Losing sleep
Psychiatrists from the Royal College advise that parents and carers concerned about their child to listen without judgement, spend time in nature as a family, support them to take action to feel more in control, work on the family’s carbon footprint, and remind the child that there are lots of people working on solutions that will make the world happier, healthier, and safer.