Natural disasters including wildfires, hurricanes, landslides, and floods are striking several parts of the world frequently in the past few years. These events have created a sense of panic among different sections of people across age groups, specifically the youth, leading to psychological distress called eco-anxiety.
Just when Himachal Pradesh was battling a breakout of floods, California's 2,00,000 acres of forest were reduced to ashes by Caldor Fire. This series of natural disasters caused by the effects of climate change adversely affects the mental health of a large section of people. Experts have termed this mental distress, arising out of the fear of nature’s wrath as eco-anxiety.
India has battled a number of natural disasters this year. From the floods in Maharashtra and Bihar to cyclones that devastated places in Gujarat, Odisha and Jharkhand. Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have also faced heavy floods recently.
The series of natural disasters adversely affects the mental health of a large section of people, including the youth, who are not following the news of calamities in India alone.
What is Eco Anxiety?
The term eco-anxiety has been defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom’. Experts in the field say striking visuals that people see on their screens almost on a daily basis, along with the news of locals turning into refugees due to multiple environmental crises, is causing young people to become ‘Eco Anxious’.
Eco Anxiety in India
Zeeshan Khan, who has spearheaded massive campaigns to sensitise the people about the climate emergency, claims that he heard some users on ClubHouse, an audio chat app, saying they did not want to have kids because they feared Earth was not its way to ruins, reported the Times of India.
Most of them were deeply disturbed looking at the visuals of wildfires, landslides in hilly areas and floods in places like Goa and Mumbai. They described having sleepless nights and a feeling of fast-approaching apocalypse hanging over them, Zeeshan added.
A 21-year-old student from Kerala, Aditya Sahadevan, had a “full-blown anxiety attack” when he read the Environmental Impact Assessment draft notification of 2020, the TOI report mentioned.
How serious is ‘Eco Anxiety’?
The chronic effects of eco-anxiety are not as visible as acute ecological emergencies like earthquakes and droughts. But they are documented to affect mental health, leading to fear, anger, frustration, despair, guilt and exhaustion from feelings of powerlessness, helplessness and inability to make a difference, according to Dr Samir Parikh, reported the Hindustan Times.
Experts say the symptoms of eco-anxiety vary from a person weeping randomly, suffering from insomnia and often feeling irritated. More notably, more youngsters than older people are suffering from this form of anxiety.
Also Read | Managing COVID-19 fatigue
“So far the effect of climate change was not tangible – it was out of sight, out of mind. Now, there are people displaced due to these events; there are climate refugees. It is visible and impacts people with an existential question on the kind of future that we are going to have,” a recent report by Times of India quoted Shaan Kumar, the youth ambassador at the recently held Asia Pacific Climate Week, as saying.
A study published by Yale University found more than 4 in 10 Americans felt "helpless" about the state of our planet. On the other hand, in a poll conducted last year by the American Psychological Association (APA), one in two Americans were 'somewhat' or 'extremely' anxious about the impact of climate change on their own mental health.
How to deal with eco-anxiety?
While governments and large corporations take their time to move to more sustainable, less polluting sources of energy, psychiatrists recommend people exercise more regularly. This would help regulate the level of stress and focus on carbon footprints while reducing waste.
The experts also suggest people verify news items of climate doom before sharing them on social media and avoid spreading such rumours which are likely to create panic.