More than half of child and adolescent psychiatrists in England are seeing patients distressed by the state of the environment, a survey revealed.
The findings showed that the climate crisis is affecting the mental health of young people. The levels of eco-anxiety observed were notably higher among young people than the general population, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which just launched its first resources to help children and their parents deal with fears about the environmental deterioration.
in a poll of its members working on the NHS in early September, the organization asked: “In the last year, have you seen patients who are distressed by environmental and ecological issues?”
Among child and adolescent psychiatrists in England, 57.3% (47 out of 82 responding) answered yes. This was almost 10 points higher than among respondents dealing with all age groups, at 47.9% (264 of 551).
The sample size is small and will need to be verified by further investigation, but professionals in the field said the findings were consistent with their experience.
Bernadka Dubicka, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said younger generations are growing up against a constant backdrop of understandable fear and concern for the future of the planet. Along with pressures from social media, doubts about misinformation and now Covid-19 and the economic crisis, he said it was affecting the mental health of young people.
“In recent years, a new set of problems has emerged. These are all things that young people have to deal with, things that affect their future, ”said the psychiatrist, who has worked in the field for 25 years.
He stressed that concern for the environment was natural, but taken to the extreme, it could trigger or increase other mental health problems.
“We don’t want to pathologize a normal response. But eco-anxiety can turn into something unhealthy. If a child already has mental health problems, this can compound some of those worries and anxieties. If a parent sees changes in a child, for example, more withdrawn, not sleeping or eating, it is important that they seek help ”.
The organization has focused more on the issue this year. The ecological crisis was a central theme of its annual conference and will be followed by a series of actions and events, including an upcoming public statement and a call for more research.
He has compiled a list of signs of ecological distress (bad mood, helplessness, anger, insomnia, panic, and guilt) and has proposed strategies to prevent these feelings from becoming overwhelming.
He advises parents to listen and explain to children that such concerns about the environment make sense and are a sign of being a loving person. They recommend spending time in nature as a family and working on actions that can help, either individually by reducing travel or meat consumption, or as part of a group.
One former patient, Rhiannon, 19, said that at the lowest point of about three years ago, when she was on a plane, she would worry that her flight could only lead to decomposition of the atmosphere. “It was very extreme,” he recalled. “He was already being treated by a psychiatrist for anxiety caused by other causes. The environment perpetuated this. “
Today, he has a more balanced view. She still does what she can to reduce her impact by eating vegan food, buying second-hand clothes, and walking or biking as much as possible, but she realizes that one person’s actions alone cannot tip the balance. . Although she is still worried, she blames herself less.
“I know there will be limitations on what I can do in the future depending on what happens now in terms of politics and the environment. This does not generate anxiety, but frustration because politicians do not listen enough to young people. Politicians should have a more comprehensive approach, and then general anxiety would subside. “
Jenny Thatcher, Friends of the Earth youth program leader, said her organizations had seen an increase in environmental awareness and concern among young people. This was particularly true among those who were directly affected by fire or flood. But he said anxiety could be a stimulus for positive action among young people.
“Without underestimating mental health, the feeling of being able to do something and being an active agent can help keep anxiety at bay. After all, it is your future and it seems like a logical and sensible response to what is happening in the world to make you anxious. We have definitely seen a massive desire to collectively organize and really deal with the climate crisis, which gives everyone reason for hope. So while the numbers in this report may be worrying, young people are certainly also leading by example. “
Climatic pressure on mental well-being is a growing concern. The problems were initially apparent among those on the front lines (climate scientists, researchers and activists), some of whom sought psychological help in dealing with a spate of negative findings. Since then, there have been reports of young children concerned about global warming and parents seeking advice on how to answer questions about existential threats. Various groups have been created to provide support.
Paul Hoggett, editor of Climate Psychology: On Indifference to Disaster, noted that concern about the weather is lowest among older and less educated people. “Climate change and environmental destruction threaten us with powerful feelings (loss, guilt, anxiety, shame, despair) that are difficult to overcome and mobilize defenses such as denial and distortion, which can undermine our ability to address the problem “.
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